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A Cellphone For Kids
“It’s small, and shaped to fit a kid’s hand” — runs an advertisement for Firefly — a mobile phone launched by communications giant Rogers, the first Canadian company to introduce a cellphone for eight-year olds. The three-inch long phone has two special keys — mom and dad — as speed dials. Firefly’s address book can store 20 numbers and it has multiple ringtones, animations and flashing lights. “Every Firefly phone can be as unique as the kid who uses it,” promises the advertisement. At $150 (US$1=1.2 Canadian Dollars), it is being sold as a tool for parents to keep in touch with “the people who matter most”.Young children and pre-teens are now being targetted by wireless companies and mobile phone manufacturers as an untapped market for the sale of mobile phones. Tweens (8-12 years) hold a rather privileged position in North American families. As recipients of, often expensive, gifts from both parents and grandparents, they are a ready-made market for expensive cellphones.
These marketing strategies and the rising sales figures have caused concern, given the fact that there are preliminary studies pointing to the adverse impact that cellphones might have on health. There are worries that the electromagnetic radiation emitted from mobile phone handsets may harm health. In particular, there have been assertions that it could affect the cell function, brain or immune system and increase the risk of developing a range of diseases from cancer to Alzheimer’s. If this is the case, children are a high-risk category. Their skulls are thinner and their brains are still developing — thus increasing their vulnerability.
While phone companies are now targeting a younger age group, some parents feel uncomfortable about studies that hint at the possibility of risks joined with use of mobile phones. Health Canada, the government health ministry, maintains that there has been no conclusive study on radio frequency energy from cellphones affecting the human body’s genetic material. As a result, it has steered clear of issuing any public warnings against the use of cellphones.
Researchers, working mostly in Europe, are still trying to find the effect of mobile phones on humans. The UK government and the country’s private sector have been proactive in limiting the use of mobile phones. In January 2005, after five years of first warnings against use of mobile phones by children, National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) — the UK statutory body providing research and advice on protecting people from radiation hazards — reiterated that children should not use mobile phones.