On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in February 2008, I read about a disturbing new technology being used by small businesses to scare children and young people away from public spaces where adults do not want them. The 'Mosquito', which made its entrance in the UK, is an electronic device that emits a high-pitched, and reportedly painful, sound audible only to young people.
The introduction of this anti-social technology seemed in line with the British trend of treating young people as “unwanted pests”. Unfortunately, some policy-makers in the Netherlands also agreed that it was a simple, cheap and effective solution. I was determined to see that Belgium did not follow suit.
I joined forces with the French Children’s Rights Commissioner to investigate the matter. We brought this worrying trend to the attention of all possible policy-makers – including the Regional and Federal Parliament, local community councils and the press – as it was unclear what level of government had the authority to address the problem. We focused on the following arguments against the Mosquito, urging decision-makers to take a positive and supportive attitude towards young people:
It is against the best interests of children and young people (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Article 3). It has no pedagogical value whatsoever.
It is a discriminatory device, as it works against all young people irrespective of their behaviour (CRC, Article 2). We acknowledge the fact that a minority of young people can at times disturb “public order”, just as adults do at times, but we do not believe that dispersing all young people constitutes a solution.
The reported damage and painful effects are a form of violence, particularly for younger children, and are thus unlawful (CRC, Article 19).
In our campaign, we called for the following:
- A multidisciplinary approach. It is not just public order that is at stake, but also the well-being of children and young people and their right to public space. We targeted different departments and ministries such as Health, Internal Affairs, Youth & Welfare and Urban Planning.
- A clearly formulated legal ban, including well-defined sanctions and monitoring. We argued that it was essential for monitoring to include young people because otherwise they may not know where to lodge a complaint. Children must be involved in monitoring the ban's implementation because adults cannot hear the device.
- More support for youth centres and public spaces for young people to gather and engage in sports, culture or simply to hang out and chat.
We were delighted to receive immediate positive feedback from policy-makers, NGOs and youth organisations. The Flemish Minister for Culture, Youth and Sport made a clear statement in the Flemish Parliament in support of our quest for a legal ban, saying that society needs to stop stigmatising young people.
On the other hand, the response from the European Commission was very disappointing. The Commission delegated responsibility for any initiative to Member States. The few MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) that did support the initiative were unable to get enough signatures to start a debate.
On a more positive note, our recommendation to local councils led to new police regulations. Some 40 councils speedily introduced a ban, while others said they would wait for federal legislation to take further action.
The Federal Parliament introduced several resolutions supported by the various political parties (except the extreme right). The Minister of Internal Affairs also announced he would investigate a possible ban. All initiatives made reference to the CRC arguments. A new law to ban all similar devices is currently pending. Further investigation of some aspects of the law is still needed – bizarrely, including a European Union (EU) check on the free movement of goods – but the law should face a vote soon.
This campaign was one of our most successful in recent times and only involved a limited amount of research and energy. Most of the political parties immediately took a stand against the device and followed our recommendations. It was very rewarding to receive such a positive reaction, unlike the feeble excuses offered by many policy-makers in the UK and the Netherlands. We hope our actions can inspire similar campaigns in other countries to ban this – and any other – anti-social technology aimed at young people.
Previous Publication (general) items
- 22/09/2009: DISCRIMINATION: Briefing on age discrimination
- 22/09/2009: EUROPE: General Recommendations for EU Action in relation to Unaccompanied and Separated Children of Third Country Origin
- 22/09/2009: SIERRA LEONE: Out of Reach: The Cost of Maternal Health in Sierra Leone
- 22/09/2009: STATELESS CHILDREN: Denied the right to have rights
- 17/09/2009: COLOMBIA: Informe del Secretario General sobre los niņos y el conflicto armado en Colombia
Last updated 18/08/2011 08:48:48