|Photo in Le Matin|
Switzerland lags far behind countries like France in warning about the potential health risks to children using mobile phones. In March 2012, those of us who are more aware of this issue were shocked to hear that Pro Juventute, a non-profit association which aids children, and the Swiss mobile operator, Sunrise, were jointly promoting the offer of a prepaid service for mobile phone use by children from age 9. The offer costs 249 francs (about US$255) a year, including an SIM card with unlimited calls to four phone numbers, and access to a control platform, offering parents the possibility of blocking or limiting access to the Internet or services such as SMS. The purpose is to protect children from pornography and cybermobbing. The question was asked, “Isn’t nine years rather early for a child to have a mobile phone?” The spokesperson for Sunrise replied that this limit corresponds to “general pedagogical recommendations made by experts”.
The Director of Pro Juventute commented that 6% of 5 to 6-year-olds have their own mobile phone. The number of children aged 9 to 12 targeted by this offer is 80,000. “Our objective is not to encourage parents to go out and buy a mobile phone but rather to direct those who wish to make this purchase towards an offer adapted to the needs of children,” said the Director.
The offer was widely announced in the Swiss media. It amounts to encouraging children from age 9 to have their own mobile phone with the possibility of “unlimited” communication. Pro Juventute acts in favor of children, based on the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, one of which is to preserve the greatest well-being of the child. This surely does not include exposing the heads of children to the risks of electromagnetic radiation emitted by cell phones, classified as a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Pro Juventute does not mention this risk at all. Children’s skulls, which are smaller and more fragile, absorb more radiation than adults’.
One Swiss newspaper, Le Matin, even went so far as to show the photo of a very young child holding a mobile phone to his head. As one teacher remarked after reading an article in a Canadian newspaper showing a baby holding an iphone , “a respected and informed journalist should be educating his readers on the health issue of mobile phone use and children. We as a society have a duty to protect our children.”
On 22 March 2012, Physicians in Favor of the Environment, which includes some 1,500 doctors in Switzerland, issued a press release calling for “strict application of the precautionary principle and lowering of limit values” for radiation emitted by wireless devices, including mobile phones. The association noted that the limit values for Switzerland, notably for children and pregnant women, constitute insufficient protection.
Pro Juventute should not in the first place be advertising this offer to children from age 9. At best, it should have mentioned the precautions to follow in limiting exposure to mobile phone radiation, as advised by the Swiss Federal Office for Public Health.
by Meris Michaels
by Meris Michaels