Yemeni children at risk due to Chinese toys, experts warn [Archives:2008/1142/Front Page]

March 31 2008

Hamed Thabet
SANA'A, March 29 ) Although the Yemen Standard, Metrology & Quality Control Organization banned many Chinese toys, such products are still widespread in Yemeni markets causing negative medical impacts, said chemist Ahmed Al-Bashah, vice general director of the organization.

Al-Bashah confirmed that the toys entered into the country illegally by smuggling. However, he also pointed out that some of the toys entered Yemen legally through borders, but traders paid bribes to border officials to bring their goods in.

“The monitoring system is weak due to unqualified staff, and weak mechanisms used at the borders are also among the reasons which lead to these products being smuggled. We don't have a large enough budget to improve our staff and the monitoring mechanisms,” added Al-Bashah.

The organization made a list of banned Chinese toys because they contained lead, mercury, magnetic pieces, and some small metal particles that cause cancer and other diseases for children, said Al-Bashah. Some of the Chinese products banned include the Nora doll, toy cars, musical tools, Mattel toys and Sesame street toys. Al-Bashah noted that the other dangerous toys will be on the list as soon as possible. The list was issued in April 2007.

“The list that we made for the banned Chinese toys hasn't been activated yet. These goods are not yet subject to seizure and examination, so they enter Yemen easily,” said Al-Bashah.

Many product recalls on Chinese goods, especially toys, have been enacted by the US government's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to ban those items harmful to the general public. Countries around the world, like the USA and Arab Gulf countries, have a control system in place on their markets for these particular Chinese products.

The US put out mass recalls in 2006 and 2007 for some Chinese products related to children, such as toys and baby cribs, that were sold at discount stores around the country. Qatar was the first country in the Arab gulf to monitor the import of Chinese toys, though the other Gulf countries followed quickly behind its lead.

Fadhal Moqbel Mansur, deputy of the Consumer Protection Assembly in Yemen, insisted that 90 percent of the goods in Yemen – including toys – are smuggled into the country and do not meet international safety standards. He criticized the Yemen Standard Metrology & Quality Control Organization, saying that the organization has been lax in conducting research on Chinese toys and other products that might harm consumers. “Until now, I can say that they did not do anything and we cannot see any action,” said Mansur. Although there is a lack of scientific studies in Yemen linking the existence of these toys to Yemeni children's health, many doctors confirmed that such toys may cause a real problem.

“Lead and poisons that can be found in toys can be deposited to the soft gum tissue and then spread through the oral cavity, which can lead to different diseases including oral cancer,” said Dr. Moein Pourahmari, a dentist and maxillofacial surgeon.

Available statistics show that the only two national centers for cancer treatment in Yemen receive approximately 10,000 new cancer patients annually.

Dr. Nadim Saeed, Director of the Cancer Center in Yemen, said that lead is used as a stabilizer in the plastic and sometimes in the paint on plastic toys. Because children like to play with toys by putting them in their mouths, it has become a hazard to their health. While lead in paint is illegal, it's commonly used as a stabilizer in plastics and as an additive in metals. Cadmium and phthalates, known to cause cancer and birth defects, are also used in many plastics without regulation, said Saeed

“These toys have toxic substances like lead, which is a bluish-gray metal that when ingested or inhaled, can cause nervous-system failure and permanent brain damage. Lead is used in jewelry and plastics. Also they have cadmium, which is a natural element that irritates the lungs, causes kidney failure and is carcinogenic. It's used in batteries, [paint] pigments and plastics,” explained Saeed.

“The Yemeni government still does not consider Chinese toys to be a health hazard. The Ministry of Health itself does not have any awareness campaigns about this subject,” said Saeed. “However, we certainly hope that there will be a plan in order to give some attention to this issue and to control the import of Chinese products to the Yemeni market. Once we get the support, we will work in this field.”

There aren't any current studies about Chinese products in Yemen, and although many countries have started preventing hazardous products from entering their countries, Yemen has not yet taken any steps or paid attention to this issue, said Jamal Al-Motareb, member of the Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Afif Al-Nabahei, head of the scientific council in the Anti-Cancer Organization, confirmed that combating the toy issue seriously would require funds and support for studies. In the meantime, Yemeni parents will have to take the extra steps to ensure their children's toys are safe all by themselves.