India needs strict law to weed out toys found unsafe for children

  • Pushpa Girimaji
  • Updated: Jun 05, 2016 07:18 IST

A couple of days ago, I read this horrifying report about a child in Mumbai swallowing a piece of toy that got lodged in his chest, almost killing him.

According to the report, the 11-month-old child swallowed a plastic steering wheel of a toy, which perforated his food pipe and got lodged in his right chest cavity! Since the symptoms were fever and the child not eating food, doctors first prescribed antibiotics, believing it to be a case of throat infection. It was only much later, after the child’s health deteriorated and his right lung almost collapsed, that a video assisted thoracoscopic surgery finally lead to the plastic part lodged in the chest!

If this had happened in any of the countries that strictly monitor the safety of children’s toys, this particular toy whose steering wheel was swallowed by the child (there is no description of the toy in the report), would have been recalled from the market by now. In the United States, for example, the Consumer Product Safety commission (CPSC) regularly recalls toys that pose a ‘choking hazard’ to children.

On May 12 this year, it announced the recall of a ‘pacifier holder’, because of a complaint that the fin of the stuffed whale attached to the pacifier holder, had got detached.

Similarly on April 15, a colourful ‘Moogy Plush toy’ meant for toddlers between 12 and 36 months of age was recalled because of similar complaints while in one case, the button on the pocket of the toy had fallen off while a baby was playing with it, in another case, the toy’s eyes had got loose.

Likewise in Europe, toys that pose a safety hazard or do not comply with the Toy Safety Directive are either withdrawn from the market or stopped at the port of entry itself (if they are being imported). Thus recently a Baby Rattler was withdrawn from the market on the ground that the rattler can easily break and generate small parts that can get lodged in a child’s throat. Similarly, a toy ‘coffee and kitchen set’ was rejected at the border because they posed ‘suffocation and choking’ hazard. And they did not comply with the Toy Safety Directive and the relevant European standard.

Unfortunately in India, there is no such mechanism to weed out unsafe toys from the market, till the Consumer Regulatory Commission ( envisaged under the new Consumer Protection Bill) comes into existence. So till then, parents have to exercise utmost caution while buying toys for their children. Always watch out for toys that have small parts that a child can swallow or parts that can get dislodged from the toy when a child puts it into the mouth, posing a serious choking hazard.

Pediatricians say that children asphyxiating on toy parts and food is a serious, life threatening problem. More so because in many cases, parents would not have seen the child swallowing the piece and the symptoms could be quite misleading.

An article titled “Unusual foreign bodies in the respiratory tract of children” in the journal, ‘Indian Pediatrics’ ( 2015; 52: 611- 612), refers to four such cases in Davanagere, Karnataka. In the first case, a 10-month-old baby’s vocal cords had been completely obstructed by a plastic flower toy that it had swallowed and the inf ant was breathing only through a tiny hole in the toy!

The parents had sought medical help on symptoms of hoarseness in the voice, drooling of saliva and excessive irritability! In the other three cases, the culprits were: a button with multiple holes (could be the mouth of a stuffed toy), a lion-faced sticker and a stone!

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