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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 November, 2004, 11:52 GMT
Mafia vice blights Naples school

By Tamsin Smith
BBC News, Naples

Bars at a school in Scampia, Naples
Mafia shootings in Naples have killed more than 100 this year
The first thing you notice about the Carlo Levi middle school is the bars.

Thick grey bars on the doors, thinner ones on the windows.

"It looks dark and gloomy but we need these here," says energetic headteacher Flavia Piro, ushering me inside.

"We have to protect the school."

Here in the Neapolitan suburb of Scampia a large part of a violent Mafia turf war over drugs and prostitution is currently being fought.

Over 100 people have died in shoot-outs this year.

The crumbling tower blocks of Scampia are part of a suburb with over 50% unemployment and where the only business is drugs.

I won't let my kids stay home alone. Gangsters knock on our doors and try to come in to hide from the police
Scampia mother
Dealers sell their wares openly in daylight, and used needles lie scattered in the grass verge outside the school gates.

Further down the road two drug addicts lie slumped on the kerbside, the sound of a police siren not enough to wake them from their stupor.

"Last week I saw two dead bodies lying outside our flat when I got home from school," says one 11-year-old.

"They were both shot."

His classmate Islina nods sagely. "Scampia has a lot of space but it's not used," she says.

"So it's the drug dealers and bad people who rule it and we can't play outside."

Mafia values

On the wall of one stairwell is a large paper collage where children can come and write what they hope for most in the future.

There are recurrent themes written in wobbly felt tip: No more drugs; Peace; Friendship; Justice.

Some children's parents have been killed by the Mafia, and they bring values learned on the streets into the school
Flavia Piro, Headteacher
Carlo Levi school

There is a chorus of agreement when I ask one class if they are frightened by the escalating Mafia violence between gangs of criminals known as the Camorra.

"Some of our children are from warring Mafia families," says Mrs Piro.

"Their parents have been killed by Mafia and the problem is that the children bring the behaviour and values they learn on the streets into the school, which can be dangerous and disruptive."

But even though the school is well aware which children are from Mafia backgrounds, the policy is to treat them equally.

"We try to improve their behaviour but we cannot make them different," Mrs Piro says, as a group of teenagers pushes past up the stairs.

"If this happens then we have failed in our duty."

'No magic wand'

The government's answer to the recent increase in Mafia killings has been to send police reinforcements to Naples.

Young people in Naples demonstrate against the Camorra
Youngsters in Naples have demonstrated against the Mafia
But this in itself is unlikely to break the gangster culture passed down through the generations.

"This isn't just a problem of policing," Vittorio Pisani, a Naples police chief told BBC News.

"The recipe is very complex. We need major investment in social, educational and cultural institutions and above all to provide employment.

"It's the only way to break the spiral of juvenile delinquency feeding organised crime."

But significant investment in these depressed suburbs of Naples is not on the cards.

"In a city like Naples there is no work, and we can't create it from one day to the next with a magic wand," says the president of Scampia's local government, Raffaele Varriale.

"I wouldn't blame young people if they want to leave these areas as soon as possible. It's the only solution."

Anxious parents

The teachers from the Carlo Levi school are proving that with limited resources they can reap unexpected results.

Their impressive school orchestra has won regional and national prizes, and there is unbridled enthusiasm amongst the children for lunchtime practice.

"Music is a way these kids can build their self-esteem and to escape their social situation," says the music teacher.

But they can't escape it for long.

At the end of the school day, parents gather outside school.

"I pick my kids up from school and take them straight home where they stay locked in until the next morning," says one mother, chewing anxiously on a cigarette.

"I won't even let them stay at home alone.

"Gangsters knock on our doors and try to come in to hide from the police."

Few parents here feel that sending more police onto the streets of Naples will solve the spiral of violence.

Even fewer expect the government to invest in their children's future.

Mafia turf war grips Naples
24 Nov 04 |  Europe
Andreotti cleared of Mafia ties
15 Oct 04 |  Europe

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