Amidst a worldwide debate among the scientific community over the health hazards posed by prolonged use of cellular phones, The Indian Department of Telecom is examining a proposal to discourage the use of mobile phones by children under the age of 16 years.
An expert's team at the Telecom Engineering Centre, a federal agency, has come up with draft guidelines suggesting that in order to minimise health risk through radiation children below 16 years should not be allowed to use cellular phones.
"The tissues of children are tender and therefore, they are likely to be more affected by use of mobile phones. Children below 16 years age should be discouraged from using mobile phones," the draft guidelines said while pointing to the fact that the World Health Organisation (WHO) too was studying if there were harmful effects of electromagnetic fields. The cumulative effect of electromagnetic fields may cause undesired effects on human beings, it further said.
Just by their basic operation, cell phones emit a small amount of electromagnetic radiation. When talking on a mobile phone, a transmitter takes the sound of the speaker's voice and encodes it onto a continuous sine wave (a type of continuously varying wave that radiates out from the antenna and fluctuates evenly through space). Once the encoded sound has been placed on the sine wave, the transmitter sends the signal to the antenna, which then sends the signal out.
According to one theory, when talking on a cell phone, most users place the phone against the head. In this position, there is a good chance that some of the radiation will be absorbed by human tissue.
However, medical experts sounded skeptical about the scientific validity of the proposal. "There have been a few studies on the harmful effects of radiation caused by the use of cellular phones. But we do not have substantive findings based on long drawn out studies on a sample population," pointed out Dr R Sathianathen, professor of psychiatry, Madras Medical College, a reputed institution in the south Indian metropolis of Chennai.
However, he believes that in the larger interest of a child's overall growth it will be worthwhile to encourage children to spend time on other activities than talking for hours on the mobile phone.
"When a child spends a lot of time on the cellular phone, other activities involving creativity and sports come down. I think children become intellectually immobile with mobile phones. Though, studies so far have not found any cognitive disturbances due to cellular phones, it is definitely not good for children. There are so many aspects in life that they should be exposed to other than communication," Dr Sathianathen observed.
Even the World Health Organisation had in the past suggested a cautious approach and a model legislation and framework on electromagnetic field and health standards. Countries like USA, Australia, Canada, China and Japan have implemented this precautionary approach in varying forms.
In India, where at least 250 million persons are likely to own cellular phones by the end of this year, there has not been any serious move to regulate the use of cell phones or installation of cellular phone transmission towers. For the record, as of July 2007, there were 14,17,47,466 mobile phone subscribers in the country, according to the Cellular Operators Association of India.