After new quality control rule, toy safety finally set to become a reality in India
With the Toys (Quality Control) Order coming into force from January 1 this year, toy safety is finally set to become a reality in the country. The Order makes it mandatory for all toys sold in the country, including the imported ones, to conform to Indian standards and also carry the Indian Standard (ISI) mark.
The Toys (Quality Control) Order, notified by the union ministry of commerce and industry, lists seven Indian Standards that the industry has to comply with, including standards on the safety of toys vis-à-vis phthalates, heavy metals, flammability , physical and mechanical properties. There are also specific safety parameters for electric toys.
Unfortunately we have no system of collecting and collating toy-related accidents in the country, but frequent news reports of tragic deaths caused by unsafe toys provide an insight into the enormity of the risk that unsafe toys pose to children.
Three months ago, an eighteen month old baby in Vizianagaram district of Andhra Pradesh died from a plastic toy stuck in her throat. In May 2019, a television actor’s two year old daughter met a similar tragic end in Mumbai - when a part of the toy that she was playing with got detached and eventually got lodged in her windpipe.
Another big challenge to child safety comes from electric and electronic toys with button batteries, which can get stuck in a child’s nose, ear or oesophagus, causing significant tissue damage and even perforations. In 2019, a five year old child in Pune had to undergo a major surgery to undo the damage caused on account of her swallowing one such battery.
Of equal concern is the deleterious effect of highly toxic heavy metals and phthalates ( plasticizers used to enhance the flexibility of plastic) found in toys. While the Centre for science and Environment found phthalates exceeding the internationally accepted safe limit in 45 per cent of the toys it tested in 2010, a subsequent Supreme court-directed Indian Council of Medical Research study found phthalates above the prescribed limit in 32.6 per cent of the toys - in some of them as much as ten times the safe limit ! A more recent study (2019) by the Quality Council of India also found 30 per cent of plastic toys and 45 per cent of soft toys failing in safety tests for phthalates. In fact the study found nearly 67 per cent of the imported toys (mostly from China) failing the quality test. An estimated 70-80 per cent of the market demand for toys is met by imports, with China contributing to 75-85 per cent.
The toys (quality Control) order, which was long overdue, finally gives due recognition to toy safety in the country. Of course given the nature of the toy industry in India and the illegal cheap imports from china, implementing the quality control order will not be an easy task for the Bureau of Indian Standards, the certifying and enforcing authority under the order.
A report brought out by the National Productivity Council in September 2017, estimated around 4000 toy manufacturing units in the country, with 75 per cent of them in the micro sector. While 22 per cent were small and medium enterprises, only three per cent constituted large units. However, consumer education and demand for only ISI marked toys can bring about the required change in the quality of toys sold in the country.
Of course bringing toys under mandatory standards is only the first step. Strict enforcement through regular market surveillance is equally essential. We also need to collect all toy-related accidents and develop a system of recall of unsafe toys. It is also essential to regularly upgrade the standards, keeping in view the new developments in toy manufacture and safety.
In the United States, where toy safety is highly regulated, there were an estimated 226,100 toy-related injuries (among children up to age 15) and 17 deaths in 2018! That gives an idea of the magnitude of the problem vis-à-vis playthings!.