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How Safe Are Your Christmas Toys?

Broadcast: Monday 17 December 2007 09:00 PM

Dispatches reveals that many top-selling toys incorporate a type of tiny but powerful magnet, a component that the toy companies now know can kill and seriously injure children who swallow them.

How safe are your Christmas toys?

Dispatches has bought dozens of toys from shops and markets in major British cities and has had their safety tested. The investigation reveals that the same hazards occur again and again: choking, strangulation, poisoning, and hidden sharp edges.

Hard-pressed trading standards officers tell Dispatches they no longer have the staff or the money to combat the flood of shoddily made and counterfeit toys arriving in the UK, many from China. They accuse the Government of deliberately down-grading consumer safety.

But it's not just cheap toys which pose a danger. Dispatches reveals that many top-selling toys incorporate a type of tiny but powerful magnet, a component that the toy companies now know can kill and seriously injure children who swallow them. The film shows how the companies have carried on using these magnets despite hundreds of complaints worldwide from parents including dozens whose children have needed emergency surgery for life threatening injuries. The magnets are a key feature in many of this Christmas's most popular toys.

The existing regulations means there's nothing illegal about this. Indeed it could be another two years before the EU's safety standards are updated to take account of this danger.

The magnets - in use in many toys - can fall out during the course of play. They are tiny and easily swallowed. If a child swallows two or more so that they are in different parts of the gut, they will attract each other through the gut wall, pinning different areas of intestine to each other, and rupturing the bowel. One British surgeon tells Dispatches the injuries are similar to: 'gunshot wounds.'

Dispatches has tracked down details of dozens of children around the world injured after swallowing this type of magnet. One of the first victims tells Dispatches that in 2000 when she was nine years old she collapsed and started vomiting green bile after accidentally swallowing twelve of these tiny magnets while pretending they were lip studs. Doctors told her mother that she would have died without an emergency operation.

Interviewed by Dispatches, the surgeon who saved her life said he was surprised and shocked the magnets are still being used. 'Obviously toy manufacturers don't read medical literature."

But she wasn't the only victim. Over a period of three months in 2000 doctors in the same city in the UK treated 23 other children in the casualty department who had injured themselves whilst playing with magnets. The medical team were so alarmed they wrote three papers for leading medical journals to warn of the dangers posed by these magnets.

Worldwide, the toy industry did little until a child died in the US in 2005. Since then a number of companies have recalled products where magnets were particularly vulnerable to being detached, but the use of magnets has remained widespread.

This summer the British Toy and Hobby Association issued a warning saying all toys containing these magnets should carry a warning on the box, but Dispatches went into leading toy shops all over the country and found the vast majority of these best-selling toys are still not being labelled.

Dispatches also investigates how slowly the EU is acting. It could be another two years before they introduce safety standards to cover magnets. And Dispatches has discovered some experts believe these standards still won't prevent children being injured.

Help & Advice

Consumer Direct
Regionally based advisors specially trained to give practical advice on all kinds of consumer issues - from problems with cars to faulty household appliances.

You can search for your nearest Trading Standards office at

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