| NOT SAFE: A child with a mobile
London, Jan. 11: Parents should not give mobile phones to children aged eight or under because 'I don't think we can put our hands on our hearts and say mobile phones are safe', the scientist acknowledged in Britain as the world's leading authority on the 'health implications' of using hand-held sets said today.
There have long been worries about the effects of radiation from mobile phones, especially on the tender brains of young children, but today's report by Professor Sir William Stewart, the chairman of the National Radiological Protection Board, goes further than previous warnings.
Stewart urged parents to play safe. 'When you come to giving mobile phones to a three to eight-year-old, that can't possibly be right,' he said.
He recognised that in a society, where both parents were often at work when children returned from school to an empty house, there were worries about their security.
'If you have a teenager and you feel they can benefit in terms of security by having a mobile phone, it is a personal choice, it is a personal decision, although mobile phones have not always helped on that basis,' he observed.
But he condemned parents who allowed very young children to use mobiles.
'But if mobile phones are available to three to eight-year-olds I can't believe for a moment that can be justified,' Stewart asserted. 'What about kids from eight to 14 years' I believe that is a judgement that parents have to make but they have to have the evidence available to them.'
He added: 'My belief is that they should take a precautionary approach and that they should use them for as short a time as possible and they should use text messaging as much as possible.'
The problem for Stewart is that mobile phones are today not only big business with a bewildering array of designs in the market but they are coming to be treated as desirable fashion accessories by the young. The use of personalities such as footballer David Beckham to sell a particular brand has helped to render their image 'cool' among the impressionable and the gullible.
Matters have come to such a point that children are now routinely subjected to street assaults as thefts of mobile phones have soared. Many teenagers also change their mobiles every six months.
The Financial Times recently noted ' approvingly ' that India had recorded a milestone because the country now had more mobile phones than fixed landlines ' 44.9 million to 43.9 million. (The UK has 40 million mobiles for a population of just under 60 million).
Sunil Mittal, the chief executive of Bharti Televentures, told the paper: 'In India, mobile phones are for ordinary people and fixed line phones are for the rich. We used to think it was the other way round.'
Today, Stewart pointed to emerging evidence that suggested possible health implications of using mobiles. 'All of these studies have yet to be replicated and are of varying quality but we can't dismiss them out of hand. This is still a relatively new area and the divergent views show how more research is needed.'
Four years ago, Stewart chaired another study on mobile phones, which found no substantiated evidence that emissions from handsets were harmful. Today's report came to a similar conclusion that 'there is no hard evidence at present that the health to the public, in general, is being affected adversely by the use of mobile phone technologies'.
However, he admitted he was 'more concerned' about the implications than five years ago.
He also raised new concerns about the siting of mobile phone masts near schools ' something which has provoked many parents in recent years to protest that such equipment causes cancer among children.
According to Stewart, 'emissions from mobile phone masts are a small percentage of the emissions that one gets from a mobile phone'. But he added that from the evidence he would suggest that they were not sited near schools.
It was announced today that a company, which launched the UK's first mobile phone specifically designed for children, was suspending sales. The British firm Commun8 said its decision followed concerns raised by Stewart's report.
Adam Stephenson, the marketing director at Commun8, said: 'We absolutely do not want to damage children's health. We have decided to suspend sales of the MyMo pending a chance to look at the Stewart report in detail.'
A spokesperson for the department of health said: 'We continue to advise a precautionary approach to mobile phone use in under-16s. The government takes concerns about possible health effects from mobile phones and mobile phone base stations seriously. And that is why the government, jointly with industry, commissioned a ' 7.4 million research programme to increase the understanding of the possible health effects of mobile phones ' a recommendation of the Stewart report.'