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Parents Ignore Mobile Phone Health Issues
Journalist: Kirstin Ridley
February 14, 2005

Almost five million British children -- some as young as five years old -- will own a mobile phone by the end of this year, despite possible health concerns, a research consultancy is warning.

MobileYouth, part of the Wireless World networking forum for industry executives, said its research showed that parental concerns about the potentially harmful effects of radiation from mobiles on children were being overridden by security worries.

"It appears it is their parents who are putting the safety and security of their children over and above other concerns," Graham Brown, a director of mobileYouth, told Reuters.

The consultancy, which will publish its latest annual research into the global youth wireless market in March, forecasts that 4.76 million mobiles will be sold this year for the 7.51 million five to 14 year-olds living in Britain, up from 4.37 million in 2004.

MobileYouth's research into a potentially explosive aspect of one of the world's fastest growing markets -- published against the backdrop of the world's top technology conference in Cannes, France, this week -- comes one month after a UK report advised parents against allowing young children to use mobiles.

The Chairman of Britain's National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), an independent research body, said while there was still no hard evidence that mobile phones caused health problems ranging from headaches to brain tumours, he was unable to categorically pronounce them safe.

"There is clearly a lot of concern from different agencies about this growth," noted Josh Dhaliwal, another mobileYouth director. "We shall have to see if it materialises."

UK mobile phone operators agreed five years ago not to market phones directly to children in what they call a recognition of the precautionary approach here. Handsets are not advertised during prime child television programmes or in children's magazines.

But the latest advice prompted Communic8, a UK distributor, to withdraw its "MyMo" handset, which was marketed as a security tool for four to eight year-olds, and Dutch electronics retail chain BCC to pull its "Foony" handset for the same age group.

MobileYouth says the growth of the British mobile phone market is matched in Scandinavia and countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and France. It says 17.26 million five to 14 year olds currently own mobile phones in continental Europe.

Parents' desire to know where their children are is also spawning another industry -- that of child-tracking.

These services allow parents to locate children via the Internet through pinpointing their mobile phone.

For many parents, the idea of computerised child-tracking might sound attractive -- especially for those whose children have promised to use mobile phones only for emergencies but then download dozens of ring tones, put best friends on speed dial and refuse to take their parents' calls.

Denmark's Legoland amusement park launched a child-tracking system that combines radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and local wireless Wi-Fi technology to allow parents to keep track of their children, who wear rented wireless-enabled wristbands that can track them within 5 feet of their location.

And at one primary school in Osaka, Japan, officials chip children, placing chips into schoolbags, name tags, or clothing to be scanned by readers installed in locations such as school gates.

But mobileYouth warns that tracking services can also put children at risk from unwanted attention of other adults unless there are tough security measures.

"As the mobile ownership filters down to the very young, and research shows children as young as 5 or 6 now owning mobile phones, the industry will need to act to ensure that services such as child-tracking are used responsibly, ethically and in a manner that benefits both the parent and the child," Brown said.

About 650 million mobile phones are expected to be sold this year to more than 1.5 billion customers in a market that has grown into an industry worth about $100 billion per year.

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