The European Commission has launched a consultation into the dangers mobile phones pose to minors. The outcome might be new EU laws to protect children from stalkers, bullies and dangerous internet material, the Commission said.
According to a Eurobarometer survey conducted two months ago, 70 per cent of European youngsters aged 12 to 13 and 23 per cent of children aged eight to nine own a mobile phone.
As handsets get more sophisticated, the threats to children from misuse mount, said the Commission, which is the EU's executive and regulatory body. Simple text messaging has been used by paedophiles to lure children, it said.
School bullies have used camera phones to film their assaults and taunt their victims later. Phones with access to the internet open up an even wider range of hazards, the Commission said.
Mobile phones pose economic risks too.The market for ring tones, which is targeted almost exclusively at children and adolescents, generated about €500 million in sales in Europe last year.
The Commission is offering interested parties a chance to take part in the consultation, which runs until 16 October.
Some countries, including the UK, rely on self regulation to prevent mobile phones and mobile services from being misused to the detriment of children. Other countries, including Germany, have strict laws that require age verification as well as other security measures.
The Commission would prefer a system of self-regulation. But if that isn't sufficient it may propose internal market laws, said Martin Selmayr, a spokesman for Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for information society and media.
The consultation, which launched on Monday, is part of a process that started in June 2005, when a plenary session of the Safer Internet Forum attracted 200 representatives from industry and child-welfare organisations. The Safer Internet Forum is part of the Commission's Safer Internet Program, which has been running since 1999 and aims to equip parents and teachers with the knowledge and tools they need to ensure internet safetyfor children.