Parents whose children drink in public or are caught in possession of alcohol are to be fined up to nearly $1,300 under an emergency law designed to thwart binge drinking in Italy.

As it announced the move, Milan city council revealed that 34 per cent of 11-year-olds in the city had “problems with alcohol”. Letizia Moratti, the centre-right mayor of Milan, said that the measure, the first of its kind in Italy, was in “response to an emergency.”

“This is not a punitive measure,” she said. “It is a message to young people and their families that alcohol is bad for you and that alcohol abuse and dependence lead to negative consequences.”

An Italian law already bans the sale of alcohol to those under 16 in bars and discos but is rarely enforced. Many youngsters buy vodka or rum from supermarkets and shops and mix it with fruit juice.

The ban reflects a radical change in a culture in which children have traditionally drunk wine at mealtimes, with the drink seen as being life enhancing rather than a means to oblivion. In the past decade pubs have sprung up in Italian towns, often bringing with them a previously unknown culture of heavy drinking.

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