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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 February 2008, 14:07 GMT
Calls to ban 'anti-teen' device
Teenagers drinking in the street
The device has been used to combat anti-social behaviour

Campaigners are calling for a ban on a device that emits a high-pitched sound to disperse groups of teenagers, saying it is not a fair way to treat them.

There are estimated to be 3,500 of the devices, known as the Mosquito, in use in England, many at shopping centres.

Their sound causes discomfort to young ears - but their frequency is above the normal hearing range of people over 25.

England's children's commissioner backs a ban but stores say the devices can be useful against anti-social youths.

The devices, which exploit the fact that a person's ability to hear high frequencies generally declines once they reach their 20s, have proved popular with councils and police who aim to tackle anti-social behaviour by using them to disperse groups of youths.

But a new campaign called "Buzz off", led by the children's commissioner for England and backed by groups including civil liberties group Liberty, is calling for them to be banned.

What type of society uses a low-level sonic weapon on its children?
Shami Chakrabarti

The organisations want to highlight what they call the "increasingly negative" way society views and deals with children and young people.

Sir Al Aynsley-Green, children's commissioner for England, said he had spoken to many young people who had been "deeply affected" by the deterrents.

He said: "These devices are indiscriminate and target all children and young people, including babies, regardless of whether they are behaving or misbehaving.

"The use of measures such as these are simply demonising children and young people, creating a dangerous and widening divide between the young and the old."

He also argued that such an approach was "not addressing the root cause" of anti-social behaviour.

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said the device had no place in a country that values its children.

Mosquito device on a wall
Device emits a tone between 17.5kHz and 18.5kHz inaudible to people over about 25 years
Tone can be heard from a distance of 15-20m
Exposure to sound becomes annoying after 5-10 minutes
Sound automatically shuts off after 20 minutes

"What type of society uses a low-level sonic weapon on its children? Imagine the outcry if a device was introduced that caused blanket discomfort to people of one race or gender, rather than to our kids," she said.

Liberty argues that the use of the Mosquito devices constitutes "a disproportionate interference with an individual's right to a private life".

A spokeswoman added: "The device does not discriminate between bad apples and the vast majority of youngsters who are law abiding."

Work towards a ban on the use of Mosquito devices in Scotland has been under way since last year.

Scotland's commissioner for children and young people is pursuing the issue with the Scottish Government, the police, supermarkets and the manufacturers.

But Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said the body would "fully support" the use of the device as a "last resort" in situations where staff and customers were intimidated by anti-social youths.

Screaming kids frequently cause 'discomfort' to my ears. If it gets rid of the little brats, I am all for it
Bill, Southampton

Mr Lowman, whose association represents 33,000 local shops, said: "Removing the ability to use tools like Mosquitoes will make life harder for retailers that face real problems.

"It would also reinforce the retailer's view that whilst many in government are quick to blame the retailer for anti-social problems created by gangs of youths, they are unwilling to make those same young people accountable for their own actions."

Mr Lowman said he had written to the children's commissioner and the children's minister, calling for a balanced approach that did not remove deterrents but ensured they were used appropriately.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Local Government Association said councils used an array of techniques to disperse groups of youths.

'Small sector'

He said: "It is imperative that local people work with their local council to ensure the most appropriate technique for ensuing that not only anti-social behaviour is dispersed but also that children have somewhere to go to release their energy in a safe place which does not disturb or annoy residents."

Howard Stapleton, the man who invented the machine, rejected the criticisms put forward by the children's commissioner, describing the notion that the device was discriminatory as "ridiculous".

He said: "We're talking about a small sector of the population, teenagers, drunk, behaving badly, this device is to be used against.

"What about the rest of us out there? Aren't we all sick and tired of what's going on on our streets at the moment?"

Graph showing loudness and pitch of everyday sounds

Teenagers on being targeted by a 'Mosquito'

High-pitch alarm quietens youths
08 Feb 08 |  Oxfordshire

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