Under a new law proposed by the Italian government, parents who impose vegan and vegetarian diets on their children may face upwards of two years in prison. The Italian government’s decision is justified, as these dietary plans may lack nutrients essential to adolescent development.
Elvira Savino, a leader of Forza Italia, has proposed a law to protect Italy’s youth from “radicalized” parents who force their children to maintain strict diets. Savino says that her proposed legislation will help to ensure that children under the age of 16 receive “essential elements needed for a healthy physical and cognitive development."
Throughout Italy, veganism and vegetarianism are increasing in popularity. According to an article published in the Italian news source La Repubblica, just over seven percent of the country’s population has chosen to eliminate meat from its diet. Of the non-meat-eaters, almost one tenth of them are completely vegan.
Adults have every right to make a self-effecting decision to go vegan or vegetarian. Problems ensue, however, when parents impose strict diets on their children that can lead to serious health issues.
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According to nutritionists at the Daily Mail, red meat provides children with protein and vital iron needed for growth and brain development.
In a vegan dairy-free diet, children are at risk of calcium deficiencies that lead to weak bones and teeth. Nutritionists at the Daily Mail also point out the fact that bone development stops completely in an individual’s 20s, meaning that “weak bones in our teens mean weak bones for life.”
Denying children these nutrients and others eliminated by strict dietary plans is abusive, in all honesty.
U.S. federal law defines child abuse as “an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm." Refusing to supply children with the nourishment that they need to survive presents risk of serious harm. Unquestionably, the Italian government has the right to punish parents who put their children at risk in this way.
Under Savino's proposal, basic offenses could lead to one year in prison. If a child becomes seriously ill or permanently injured because of dietary issues, parents could spend two and a half years in jail. If malnutritional practices lead to a child's death, the parent could spend six or more years in prison.
To be clear, this is not an argument against vegan and vegetarian lifestyles. Vegan and vegetarian diets are safe for children if they find alternate means of getting the nutrients found in meat, dairy, and other rejected food groups.
Livestrong.com reports that children on vegan and vegetarian diets need to consume plenty of vegetables high in zinc and iron, such as spinach and asparagus. Additionally, they should take vitamin B-12 and calcium supplements to allow proper neurological development and iron absorption to occur.
Two recent cases in Italy have demonstrated just how essential these nutrients are:
In Genoa, a two-year-old girl was placed in intensive care for severe neurological issues caused by a B-12 deficiency. In Milan, a 14-month-old boy experiencing a calcium deficiency was taken into the hospital as well. Doctors reported that he weighed as much as the average three-month-old.
Parents who do not find ways for their children to receive necessary supplements should not force their children to stick to vegan or vegetarian diets. The Italian government has caught on to this issue and is right in proposing varying degrees of punishment for the “radicalized” parents.