Rome

MPs rush back from holidays to push 'femicide' law

But only 104 of 640 lawmakers turn up

MPs rush back from holidays to push 'femicide' law

(By Elisa Cecchi). Rome, August 20 - Italy's MPs on Tuesday cut short their vacations and met for the presentation of a government bill approved earlier this month to stem a growing national problem - violence against women. Only 104 of the House's 630 lawmakers however attended the summer session to start discussing the so-called 'femicide' decree and assign it to the commissions which will have to examine the measure. The 12-point decree sets harsher penalties for those found guilty of domestic abuse, sexual violence and stalking. The measure became effective mid August but needs to be ratified by parliament. Lower House Speaker Laura Boldrini said that combating crimes against women requires "intervention on a cultural level, starting from school". "Repression of the phenomenon alone is not sufficient", Boldrini said during the House's debate. The bill, which also offers greater victim protection in particular to shield migrant women escaping violence, came as awareness is rising in Italy over high levels of violence against women, prompting the government to stiffen penalties. "The fact that Italian women will be more protected as of August 14 must make us all proud", the Minister for Relations with Parliament Dario Franceschini told the Lower House on Tuesday, "without distinction between government and parliament, majority and opposition" coalitions. Over 80 women have been killed in Italy so far this year, mostly by exes, according to an unofficial death toll kept by national media. Many of the victims had reported stalking or harassment episodes to police. Though Italy has one of the lowest murder rates for both sexes in Europe a recent spate of killings of women at the hands of partners or exes has sparked calls for more action. The measures will provide a "radical" new approach to the issue of femicide, said Premier Enrico Letta after the government approved the bill on August 8. "At the heart of this decree, we want to send a strong signal of radical change on the subject," he said. Recent surveys found that 75% of women killed in Italy in the first half of this year were slain by family members or partners. The joint report by the Italian social economic research group EURES and ANSA also found that 2,200 women were murdered in Italy between 2000 and 2012, an average of 171 per year - about one every other day. The new bill includes mandatory arrest for stalking and family abuse, with the abusive spouse subject to immediate removal from the home if there is any risk of violence. A residence permit will also be granted to foreign women fleeing violence at home. Penalties increase in cases of violence against a pregnant woman, or in the presence of minors. Under the bill, women will also be kept informed during legal proceedings that involve their abuser and can be offered free legal aid. On Tuesday the organization representing Italy's criminal lawyers - the Unione Camere Penali (UCP) - criticized the bill as "extravagant and irrational" and expressed the hope that parliament "will be able to gain back rationality and equilibrium" when converting it into law. UCP in particular criticized harsher penalties for abuse perpetrators in the presence of minors, a measure slammed as "irrational in pairing two heterogeneous events" and the fact that legal action cannot be withdrawn once it has been filed by abuse or stalking victims.

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