According to recent data from the Italian National Statistics Office (Istat), there are around 800 thousand couples in Italy who have brought at least three children into the world. They think of themselves as normal, but most consider them black sheep. Some define them as saints or heroes, while they are labeled by others as reckless and naive. One thing is certain: they are families who feel discriminated against. According to a survey promoted by Italy’s National Association of Large Families, 28% of families responded positively to the question, “Do you ever feel like victims of abuse or discrimination for the sole fact of being a large family?” That’s almost one in three families.
The most common types of discriminations include, but are not limited to the following:
- An agreement of resignation from one’s job- signed at the time of employment- at the birth of another child
- Difficulty in getting occasional leaves at work for family motives
- Hotels, restaurants, and museums that do not allow dogs… nor strollers
- Prices for goods and services that equate an extra-large family to a single consumer
Providing a voice and support to these families is the National Association of Large Families (l’Associazione nazionale famiglie numerose- ANFN), founded on July 26, 2004 in Brescia by two fathers of large families, Mario Sberna and Enrico Cinelli. They met at a fish market where there were fish these men knew they couldn’t afford for their families.
Today, the association is widespread throughout Italy, with over 20 thousand members and growing at a rate of 45 new members a week. They have a website and magazine eloquently titled, Test Positive.
Their numerous existing and planned projects are focused in concrete help. For example, the association has stipulated roughly 250 conventions throughout Italy allowing large families to access their goods and services at affordable prices. Thanks to the food bank, the association distributes grocery bags to a million families in need. In recent years, one of the projects, Let’s Help Each Other, powered by private donors, has responded to about a hundred emergency situations reported by families in serious economic difficulty. The large families association finally have a national soccer team, in which former professionals participate, who are now fathers of four, five, or ten children. The team has tread the fields of the largest stadiums in Italy, and has recently played matches in warn-torn Holy Land.
Families are growing poorer, but the real challenge is family welfare
According to statistical data, the percentage of families in Italy just above the poverty line is growing exponentially with the birth of a new child. The economic struggle of our time is clear to all. However, the real enemies are often the social and cultural prejudices and stereotypes that disguise opportunities as challenges as shadow clouds.
Investing in the wellbeing of family and children, at least so they can become self-sustaining, actually generates wealth. More consumption leads to more work opportunities. Removing the cultural and economic obstacles to having the desired number of children (at least two) guarantees a generational replacement, and therefore the survival of a nation. This revitalizes and gives a greater meaning to welfare. (Note that in Italy, there is currently an average of 1.3 children for every fertile woman.)
Cardinal Bagnasco, President of the Italian Bishops Conference, recently underlined this point when he said, “The family is the first welfare, the first social remedy, the first to be saved, not only for the economic solidarity that it is able to guarantee, but also because it reveals the source of inner energy required to sustain itself in hard times. [The family] is a priceless contribution. We must shout it from the rooftops.”
Why the Family Model is in Crisis
ANFA explains how until the postwar period, Italy survived mostly from agriculture. Children were seen as wealth, because they provided the essential manpower for work in the fields. They were therefore a social good to protect, as expressed by the founding fathers in Articles 29-31 of the Constitution.
The transition to an industrial economy in the 50’s, and then an economy of services in the 90’s, brought about a certain good on one hand. But it also generated a strong stimulus towards economic and social consumerism and individualism.
Then in 1968, a social, cultural and political movement was established, which led to the gradual affirmation of individual rights, increasingly at the expense of public and family rights. The result of this vision has been that children are no longer seen as a public good to protect, but simply someone’s personal choice.
Media attention on this issue is on the decline. The press is speaking less and less of large families, not only in Italy, but also in Germany, a country that has always been historically favorable to family policies.
And you, dear readers, what do you think? Do you hold that children are a public good to protect or an individual choice? If you speak Italian, you may participate in the survey. The National Association of Large Families wants to know your opinion.