The government has advised every school in England to discourage children under the age of 15 from using mobile phones, but stops short of making it legally binding.
The Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) has issued a circular to all schools in England advising that the widespread use of mobile phones by children for "non-essential calls should be discouraged". The advice follows recommendations from the government-appointed Stewart Inquiry in May to introduce guidelines on a minimum age limit for mobile phone users.
"We were literally making schools aware of the Stewart Inquiry -- enabling them to adopt their own informed policy," says a spokesperson at the DfEE.
The Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP) -- which followed the Stewart Inquiry -- agreed with its findings, stating that children aged fifteen years and under were more at risk than adults "as they are likely to be more vulnerable to any unrecognised health risks from mobile phone use because their nervous systems are still developing. Also, because of their smaller heads, thinner skulls and higher tissue conductivity, children may absorb more energy from a mobile phone than do adults".
The Stewart Inquiry highlighted the issue of the positioning of mobile masts and recommended the matter be looked into farther. The IEGMP report, however, decided no ban on base stations on school premises was necessary. Under its precautionary approach it simply recommends that "the beam of greatest intensity" from a base station's antenna should not fall on any part of the school grounds without agreement from staff and parents.
Dr Harvey Marcovitch at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health believes there is no conclusive evidence that mobile phones harm children.
"No one has demonstrated that a child has got cancer from mobile phone usage", he says. "It could take years to find proof of actual harm". He argues that the issue has been given higher profile because of the popularity of mobile phones with younger people. "The pay-as-you-go phones are to blame, as children can purchase them without having to sign a contract," he says.
The Consumer Association is welcoming the precautionary approach that the Government is taking. "We still don't have conclusive evidence of mobile phones causing any harm as they are still relatively new, but we think that it's important to play safe," a spokeswoman said.