Mosquito device installed at Hamilton train station

Date: 24th July 2017
Category: Non-discrimination, Freedom of association and peaceful assembly, Civil Rights and Freedoms

A new 'mosquito device' has been installed, despite the evidence of their harmful and discriminatory impact on children and young people.

Despite repeated calls from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for their use to be banned, the devices are still being used against children and young people across Scotland.

Together's evidence

Electronic anti-loitering devices, referred to as 'mosquito devices', emit a high-pitched buzzing sound at frequencies that can generally only be heard by children and which is designed to be uncomfortable and unpleasant. They are indiscriminate and can be as disturbing for a baby in a pram as they are to a teenager. Devices have been deployed by home-owners, retail businesses, schools, community groups and other organisations to prevent the congregation of children. Concerns have been raised that these devices are a form of discrimination that risks alienating young people from the community.

The long-term physical health implications of exposure to mosquito devices are not clear. A 2001 report concluded that available studies on adult exposure to high frequency sound were inadequate to establish guidelines for safe exposure. A report was published in Germany in 2007 which highlighted the potential risks to very young children who may not be able to move themselves from the vicinity of the noise. It is not yet known whether devices can be heard by, or affect, babies in the womb.

The impact of the devices on children's wellbeing are evident and well documented, with children speaking of being woken up at night by devices and teenagers describing the noise as 'screeching' and 'going right through you'. The manufacturers market the devices as being 'UNBELIEVABLY annoying to the point where the kids CANNOT stay in the area'. This clearly presents significant concerns for babies, younger children and children with a disability who are unable to remove themselves from the presence of a device. The Co-op stopped the use of mosquito devices back in 2008 following concerns that they might have serious effects on children with autism.

In 2010 a petition on behalf of the Scottish Youth Parliament was submitted to the Public Petitions Committee by Andrew Deans MSYP, calling for a ban on mosquito devices. It was described by the Convener as 'one of the most significant petitions that we have received'. In 2012 the Committee invited Roseanna Cunningham, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, to respond to the concerns raised. The Minister stated her belief that there was insufficient evidence of the devices being a widespread problem, and as such it would likely be considered disproportionate for a ban to be put in place. Following from the Minister's response, some Committee members were sceptical of whether the devices were being used at all, and successfully closed the petition on 30 April 2013.

According to Freedom of Information requests made by Together:

- 32 local Scottish councils revealed that:
- Two councils had records of mosquito devices installed in their areas;
- 21 councils confirmed that they had no record of mosquito devices currently installed in their areas;
- Eight councils did not hold information on the use of mosquito devices in their areas;
- One council did not reply.
- Police Scotland revealed that it does not use mosquito devices, and has not received any complaints regarding mosquito or similar devices.
- 18 of out 19 Scottish sports and leisure centres confirmed that they do not use devices on their premises. One centre failed to respond.
- Five Scottish transport partnerships confirmed that they do not use devices on their premises while two replied that the requested information is not held.
- Seven Scottish arts authorities confirmed that they do not use mosquito devices.

A Scottish Youth Parliament survey (of 31 young people) indicates that children are encountering mosquito devices in areas where public bodies believe no devices are installed. Respondents from Aberdeenshire, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, East Renfrewshire, North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, West Dunbartonshire and South Ayrshire reported either encountering the devices or awareness of their use, despite councils and other public bodies in that area reporting that no devices are installed. Similarly, respondents reported encounters or awareness of the use of mosquito devices in six of the eight council areas that did not hold information on the use of devices.

Whilst the majority of public bodies do not support the use of mosquito devices, their use is still widespread and of concern to children. The lack of regulation means that the use of devices is not normally known to local councils. It is clear that the longstanding call from children's organisations to ban their use has to be taken forward to prevent continued violations of children's rights.

In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a repeat recommendation to:

Prohibit the use in public spaces of acoustic devices used to disperse gatherings of young people (so-called "mosquito devices")

Hamilton station, Lanarkshire

ScotRail installed the mosquito device at Hamilton station after complaints by staff and the RMT union of young people gathering at the station.

The move has been criticised by campaigners who have called for the devices to be banned because they say they discriminate against young people.

Bruce Adamson, the new Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland, condemned the use of the device by ScotRail. He said: "The use of such devices is a breach of children's rights to go about their lives free from discrimination in a healthy and safe way when they use public transport, visit shops or meet their friends.

"These devices are a disproportionate and degrading approach that acts without discrimination, causing discomfort to any children and young people who encounter them.

"The UN and Council of Europe have called on Governments to ban mosquito devices. Companies like ScotRail must also respect children's rights. "The Scottish Government and public authorities are under a duty to protect children from harm, they must act to ban these devices."

Amy Lee Fraioli, 19, the chairwoman of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said she heard the device while she was travelling home on Saturday night. She said it emitted a 'horrific' high pitched screeching which was 'the most uncomfortable noise to sit through'.

She said: "People are very concerned, as they should be. There are many ways to solve anti-social behaviour issues, especially in a manner that doesn't target one section of society, because the anti-social behaviour at Hamilton Central is not all caused by young people. Even in the situation that it was, it would be unfair to punish every young person that visits the station."