Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Canals and chasms
  1. David Bass
  1. Department of Paediatric Surgery, Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital, Rondebosch 7700, South Africa (tel: +27 21 658 5199, fax: +27 21 689 1287, e-mail: daveb{at}

    Statistics from

    Thank you, Amsterdam. Roll on, Delhi! This is the best way in which I can express what I felt at the close of the one day ISCAIP conference in May. Amsterdam itself was a joy and must rank as one of the most appealing cities in the world. I certainly felt safe walking alongside the canals and through the city centre at all times of the night—a privilege I have not experienced in South Africa for many years now. The meeting was also a wonderful opportunity to meet with fellow global villagers whose enthusiasm for child safety provides constant inspiration, even though perspectives in terms of what is desirable, and what is tangible, may differ among us, depending on the region of origin.

    In his presentation on passenger safety, fellow ISCAIP delegate Professor Krishnan described the obstacles in promotion of child restraints in Malaysia, his experience being very similar to ours in South Africa. Another increasing problem common to both countries is the unchecked importation of hazardous toys, domestic appliances, and other goods from both Eastern and Western countries. In South Africa, the prevalence of such “grey” imports is one inevitable outcome of increasingly relaxed importation controls and a flourishing informal retail sector, itself the result of persistently high unemployment. One national newspaper recently reported on an investigation into toys widely available from street hawkers in Johannesburg. The sound level of a toy cellphone manufactured in the orient measured 91.1 dB, and that from a guitar shaped “melody maker” measured 104.4 dB. The maximum noise level permitted in industry is 85 dB, on average over eight hours. Regrettably, there is no legislation in South Africa pertaining to noise levels of toys.

    Progress in providing electricity to poorer residential areas has also unleashed a flood of substandard, frankly hazardous electrical appliances on to the retail market. Plastic appliances manufactured without fire retardant, faulty television tubes which explode instead of imploding, and circuit boards which emit toxic gas when overheated are three examples of manufacturing “short cuts” taken simply to maintain the maximum credit margin. An investigation by another daily newspaper revealed that such dangerous appliances stand proudly on the shelves of several popular supermarkets, despite the management of these outlets insisting that all new appliances are subject to approval by the South African Bureau of Standards. So even the improved domestic safety which should be heralded by electrification carries a new risk, one that is simply born out of greed and exploitation of opportunities created by consumer demand, and glaring holes in safety legislation.

    Dr Khadija Jaffer has been awarded an MPhil degree for her dissertation on child safety in 33 crêches and other daycare centres situated in low income areas. Her main findings included a fairly uniform standard of safety awareness among caregivers and environmental safety features, regardless of fees charged. Although the majority of injuries recorded in the study were fairly trivial, there appeared to be no standard procedure for recording injury events, and crêche staff were clearly concerned about the negative publicity that might accrue from disclosure of such records. Once again, economic considerations to the fore, always likely to eclipse consideration for the safety of a child who is both vulnerable, and economically powerless.

    Request Permissions

    If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.