July 11, 2005

Baby killings shake Italian faith in ‘Mamma’

By Rachel Sanderson

ROME (Reuters) - In this Roman Catholic country where
mothers are usually adored like living saints, a series of baby
killings has shaken Italian faith in "Mamma."

Maria Patrizio, a 29-year-old woman from the northern
lakeside town of Lecco, admitted in June she had drowned her
5-month-old son in the bath and then staged a robbery to try to
put the blame on thieves.

Just weeks earlier in Rome a 23-year-old former cosmetics
sales assistant stabbed and killed her daughter and then slit
her own wrists. A mother in the seaside town of Rimini threw
her daughter out of the window on the same day.

Meanwhile, a 31-year-old woman went on trial in the art
town of Perugia accused of aiding the rape and murder of her
2-year-old daughter Maria by a male family friend.

If newspaper front pages and prime-time talk shows are any
guide, Italy is confronting a crisis in its love affair with
"Mamma" -- that idealized woman who is always ready in the home
to rustle up a steaming plate of pasta for her brood.

"In our culture the idea of a wicked mother is unthinkable.
Italians expect love and security in the family and feel
personally betrayed when they hear such stories," Isabella
Merzagora, a professor of female criminology and author of
"Demons at the Hearth: Wives and Mothers who Kill," told


The public debate has spanned screaming headlines in
women's weeklies about "Mother Assassins," radio phone-ins and
broadsheet commentaries.

Even the Italian government has had its say.

Communications Minister Mario Landolfi told the media to
rein in its coverage of crimes involving mothers and children
in order to preserve "the well-being of society."

Women's rights groups responded the government should start
with the well-being of its women.

"I could not be a good enough mother," Maria Patrizio was
reported to have screamed at police before she was taken to a
clinic to be treated for post-partum depression.

Infanticides appear to be on the rise in 2005 compared with
a usual average of two to four child murders a year, according
to social statistics agency Eurispes.

Murder used to be something kept outside the home in Italy,
but killings by family members and friends recently overtook
Mafia and crime-related slaughter as Italians' most likely
cause of violent death.

Failure to recognize and treat "baby blues" in a country
where people can't believe a woman could suffer from depression
after giving birth to a child has been partially blamed for the
killing spree.

Experts have also pointed to domestic abuse and migration
in search of work, because it splinters family support

But to the usual causes used to explain what drives a
mother to kill her child, Italy adds its own peculiar agonies.


Some conservative newspaper commentators have argued the
spate of sensational baby killings occurred because of the
Italian obsession with the body beautiful and the rise of
scantily clad showgirls on Italian television.

Maria Patrizio, a local TV hostess before her pregnancy,
said her son had ruined her body and now no one would hire her.

More than 70 percent of women working part-time, who make
up the bulk of Italy's female working population, are fired or
quit their jobs when they have a child, data from national
statistics office ISTAT showed.

For equality at work, Italy ranked below Bangladesh, in
45th place, in a recent OECD world survey.

But, not surprisingly in a country where mafia godmothers
have avoided punishment for murder by pleading they were only
acting to protect their sons, there is a flip side.

Annamaria Franzoni, Italy's most infamous child killer, was
sentenced to 30 years in prison last year for battering her
3-year-old son to death while he slept in his parents' bed.

However, the petite brunette, who was never diagnosed with
a mental disorder and has since had another child, is still

"We didn't ask for her to be arrested because we didn't
want to appear pitiless. The court considered that she is a
woman and a mother," magistrate Pasquale Longarini told