Dangerous Chinese toys still on the market [Archives:2008/1175/Front Page]

July 24 2008

By: Alia Ishaq
SANA'A, July 22 – Earlier this month, the Chinese embassy sent out official letters to Yemen's Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Standardization and Quality Control Organization and the Federation of Chambers of Commerce regarding hazardous Chinese toys that are being sold here, explaining that it desires to work together to get such toys off the market. But so far, none of the concerned Yemeni groups have done anything to rid the country of these toys.

Experts worldwide have warned that certain unregulated toys from China contain large amounts of lead and other materials that could seriously harm children's health. For instance, the Russian Federal Service for Consumer Rights Supervision found that more than half the Chinese toys in that country were damaging children's health.

Newborns have an even higher risk, since they tend to put toys in their mouth, as a result, swallowing harmful particles that can lead to various diseases, including oral cancer.

The Chinese embassy sent the letter following a Yemen Times front page report about Chinese toys and their impact on children's health. The letter mentioned that the Chinese government is paying close attention to the issue and that it is willing to cooperate with the Yemeni government to improve the quality and safety level of Chinese toys imported to Yemen.

The Yemen Times subsequently contacted several of the concerned Yemeni authorities to see if anything has been done regarding the issue. Some of the agencies denied ever receiving the letter or simply ignored the Yemen Times' request to comment on the issue. Others cooperated, but admitted that nothing has been done to get the toys off the market.

Ahmed Al-Basha, deputy general director of the Standardization and Quality Control Organization, maintained that his organization has no knowledge of the letter. “We didn't receive any letter from the Chinese embassy and even if we did, it wouldn't mean anything,” he remarked, adding that he thinks Yemeni businesspeople should be responsible for getting the toys off the market, not the Chinese government.

Federation of Chambers of Commerce member Jamal Al-Mutarreb said it's merely a matter of standards and measurements and that the entire issue is nothing more than a way for the U.S. government to pressure China, noting, “We're in Yemen – not America!”

Abdulmalik Al-Sharabi, a media representative from Yemen's Organization for Consumer Protection, said he's seen no reaction by official Yemeni sources since his organization raised the subject of unsafe Chinese toys three months ago. “The Ministry of Industry and Trade should've done something about this issue, however, nothing has been done so far,” he pointed out.

The Yemen Times attempted to contact Ministry of Industry and Trade officials several times about the unsafe toys, but ministry employees provided no clear responses concerning the problem. “I really don't have any idea about that issue,” one employee commented.

sAl-Sharabi added that even though his organization published advertisements warning consumers in Yemen against buying these harmful Chinese toys three months ago, he hasn't seen much of a change in terms of awareness, particularly among those in rural areas.

Abdulalim Al-Hashemi, another media representative from the consumer protection organization, noted that while his agency has attempted to raise awareness about these unsafe toys, it's not enough, as government officials also must “do their jobs properly” and cooperate to remove these toys from the market.

As the world's largest toy producer and exporter, China's toy industry brought in more than $8 billion in 2007 alone by exporting toys to more than 160 countries worldwide.