May 20, 2008
Discriminatory device violates the rights of children and young people
On the occasion of the Education, Youth and Culture Council of the European Union on 21-22 May, youth organisations across Europe are calling on EU Member States to ban the Mosquito, a device emitting an irritating sound aimed at dispersing young people gathered in public places. This discriminatory device not only violates the fundamental rights of children and young people but also fosters negative stereotypes about them.
The Mosquito, which emits a high pitched noise causing severe discomfort, is being used as a means of combating antisocial behaviour, and is becoming very popular in the United Kingdom – with some 3500 in use, mostly by shopkeepers, the police, municipalities, and even individuals. In other European countries, such as Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland, the Mosquito phenomenon is also emerging.
Infringing fundamental rights
The frequency of the device is above the hearing range of people over 25, and it thus specifically targets young people. As such, use of the Mosquito can be considered as in contravention of a number of principles protected by international and European human rights legislation: the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights), and the prohibition of discrimination (Article 14), the freedom from violence and degrading treatment (Articles 2 and 3), the freedom of assembly (Article 11), the freedom of movement (Article 2, protocol 4), and the right to a high standard of physical and mental health (Article 12 of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).
UK Commissioner for Children, Al Aynsley-Green, called for the UK government to ban the use of Mosquitos, noting that “they can penalize the innocent and violate the rights of man. We are sending out the message that we as a society do not value our children and young people and we do not respect their rights. This has to end now.”
Long-term impact on health
“I wish that this device is purely and simply prohibited, whatever the legal form that it takes,” stated the French Minister of Health, Roselyne Bachelot. Installing these devices is unacceptable as the high pitch sounds it emits cause discomfort which could, in the longer term, have harmful effects on hearing. This is one of the main arguments put forward by a written declaration submitted by a group of Members of the European Parliament, led by Jan Marinus Wiersma, vice-president of the Socialist Group, calling on the EU to ban its sale and use. If half of all MEPs sign the declaration, the official demand of the European Parliament will be to ban these devices.
Triggering demonising stereotypes
The idea behind the Mosquito fosters a negative portrait of young people in society and in the media by giving the impression that all behave antisocially, all should be seen as potential troublemakers, and even dangerous. Meeting friends in public spaces is not a problem in itself; the matter lies rather in the perception of it as something negative. Many young people gather in groups to meet their friends, share their free time, not because they intend to cause trouble; any group in society should not be excluded from using public spaces. The Socialist and Communist parties in France have also requested the French government to ban the sale of Mosquitos as they vilify young people by taking for granted they are a menace.
The French Minister for Housing, Christine Boutin, expressed concern that “our society has reached such a high degree of stigmatization and exclusion of young people”. She explained that “the priority is to ensure good living conditions for all, and not to take doubtful measures, without consulting with the public.” In constitutional states, the citizens, through their government, should be those regulating public life and have the power of sanction: here, as elsewhere, young people should be involved and help in the design of community-led solutions to anti-social behaviour.
The EU should take a stand on the matter
The EU countries concerned are questioning the attitude of responding to the installation of these repellents as being ‘anti-youth’. The United Kingdom has demonstrated a great tolerance for the Mosquito, but while France, Belgium and the Netherlands are criticising its use, they remain hesitant on how to regulate it. For their part, a good number of youth organisations, civil society organisations and politicians have spoken out against the Mosquito and have launched campaigns for a European ban.
The European Commission declared in April that it is up to each Member State to decide how to react. “It appears that such a measure does not fall within the European Union’s area of responsibility,” said Helen Kearns, spokeswoman for the European Consumer Protection Commissioner Maglena Kuneva. Nevertheless, the Commission has banned other harmful products in the past. The Belgian Minister for Youth, Marc Tarabella, has requested a referral from the European Commission, in accordance with the ‘Ratex’ procedure, which allows the prohibition of a product when its security is questionable.
The Council of the EU and the Commission could condemn the use of the Mosquito and ask Member States to ban it, before its use becomes widespread across the Union.
Furthermore, the Mosquito case shows the importance of the European Commission and Member States bringing forward a comprehensive European anti-discrimination Directive covering all grounds – including disability, age, religion and belief, gender and sexual orientation – in the area of goods and services.
Bettina Schwarzmayr is the President of the European Youth Forum, a platform of 97 youth organisations in Europe, working with the European Union, the Council of Europe and the United Nations to promote the interests of young people.blogmanager