Iraq moves to ban toy guns to protect kids

Updated: Jan 02, 2011, 09:24 AM IST

Washington: The Iraqi health ministry has urged the government to ban the sale of toy guns in the country as "they make it easier for a child to make the next step to real violence".

Baghdad`s toy markets are stocked with plastic weapons in all prices and sizes: toy guns, tanks, knives, uniforms, even silencers. According to the New York Times, the ministry has urged the government to ban all toy weapons.

But for now it is concentrating on one: a cheap plastic air pistol highly popular among boys that fires plastic pellets and has been the source of hundreds, possibly thousands, of eye injuries.

"It`s the responsibility of the community to get rid of these toys," Emad Abdulrazaq, national adviser for mental health at the ministry, was quoted as saying. "They make it easier for a child to make the next step to real violence, because every day he enjoys guns."

Kudair al-Tai, head of the technical department at Ibn al-Haytham Hospital, the country`s main eye hospital, is one of those waging the campaign.

During the five-day celebration of Eid-ul-Azha, when families give children money to buy toys, Tai said, he often sees several injuries from pellet guns a day, some severe enough to require surgery. This year he went on television to advise parents not to buy the guns.

"The problem is not with the parents who purchase these toys but with the merchants that import such kind of toys," Tai said. Because the toys are popular, parents "cannot resist their children`s persistence," he said.

Children in Iraq live amid the impact of real violence, both on the news and in their neighbourhoods.

During the height of sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007, bodies often remained on the streets for days before being collected. Few children have access to psychiatric care, which is deeply stigmatized.

Iraqi families are often large, and the children share rooms with their parents, so they are not sheltered from adult television or conversation - both of which commonly refer to horrific violence, theatrical or real.

"We have our own horror scenes, we don`t need extra," said a hospital ward matron, who asked not to be named because she was not authorized to talk to reporters. "It should all be banned, any fireworks."

But, at the markets on Karada Street, where pellet guns sold for $8 or less, merchants said toy guns were their most popular.

"The culture of violence is dominant," said one shop owner, Hussein Mohammed, who declines to sell pellet guns. "Children are no longer interested in educational games," he said. "All they want to play with is the games that express power and violence."

However, imposing a ban on toy weapons would require action by a number of ministries, none of them responsible for public health. But the Trade Ministry is in talks with health experts about a ban on some imports, a ministry spokeswoman said.