Monday, 25 January 2010

There are toys and then there are toys

One of the blogs that I always enjoy reading is Big Beluga Baby. Gail is a mum of 3 (soon to be 4) living in Almaty in Kazakhstan. She came back to the UK recently to await the birth of her baby and has been writing some brilliant posts about coming back to England from somewhere like Kazakhstan. One that I enjoyed the most recently was about the levels of health and safety in the UK, particularly regarding toys (and do go and have a read of it here as it is worth it).

It wasn't until we came to Bosnia that I realised how good the quality of the toys are in the UK. For all the warnings about small parts being a choking hazard or toys being flammable, fundamentally the toys are good, won't fall apart immediately and there is a strong legal system which prevents dodgy toys from being widely distributed.

The situation isn't like that here. There are obviously toy shops that sell excellent toys with well known brands easily available. But Lego is expensive at the best of times, add the Bosnian import taxes to that price and it becomes eye wateringly expensive. The average Bosnian income is some 800KM (£300) a month; you can see that most people actually can't afford to buy this type of toy.

So there are the other toy shops, which sell cheaper stuff, but of dubious quality (at best) and often downright dangerous. It makes me so cross, it sometimes seems that there is some big toy maker out there looking at the toys they have in their stock room that are either rubbish or wouldn't pass the health and safety guidelines of the EU and wondering what to do with them. I wonder if they look around and see Bosnia and think - I know what we'll do, we'll send them there, they'll never notice. I'm sure Bosnia has laws to ensure the standards of their toys, but am equally sure these can be easily bypassed. What really gets my goat though is that those Bosnians who can't afford to buy the quality stuff have to buy the substandard toys and that just isn't right. You shouldn't have to be made to buy safety in toys.

To give you an idea of the what I'm talking about I did a quick inventory of the new toys that have entered the household since Christmas to highlight how the toys are dangerous or simply just aren't fit for purpose. It might be helpful to add that at this point, not even a month after Christmas and a mere 3 DAYS after Luke's birthday, not a single present remains fully intact.

1. Electrical Car - present for Luke's birthday on Thursday, already broken. Wires hanging out and circuit board clearly visible.

2. Ben Ten Gun (this is Bosnia, all small boys are given guns, English middle class sensibilities notwithstanding). A laser like light which would definitely damage an eye - so strong that we can see its light on the wall of a house a good 30m away.

(yes, that light on the wall has been through a balloon and is still that concentrated, scary huh?)

3. A train set (interestingly marketed as a Ben Ten train set but clearly Ben Ten actually has nothing to with it apart from being plastered all over the box). The train is only capable of moving on straight bits of track, such a shame that the only tracks that were supplied are curved.
4. Remote Controlled Car which requires batteries. Sadly, a bit of moulded plastic makes it impossible to open the battery compartment so the batteries cannot be put into the car.
5. A gun - (see what I mean about the gun thing?) and when the gun is fired sparks fly out of the gun. Not intentionally either.

6. Two Pirate ships, complete with pirates. They are such perfect replicas of a pirate ship that the keel has not been modified to take into account that it will be played with out of the water, and as such the boats cannot actually stand up on their own. This can, with patience, be sorted out with all forms of plasticine on the base which means the boat will stand up as long as you are gentle with it, not a hope in this household. Here's a picture of one of the boats, plasticine and all (and yes the delicate bit at the front of the boat has snapped off and has a nail sticking out of it).

(You are not dreaming. It really does say 'World Govt' on the sails of this pirate boat. Tickles me every time. Actually there is another sail on which it also says 'World Govt' but it has broken off and I couldn't make it stay on for the millisecond I needed to take the photo.)

By being able to implement strong health and safety laws means that the UK has safe toys. The rule of law isn't so strong in Bosnia, which leads to toy makers being able to dump unsafe and dangerous toys here. As usual, the people most affected are those who can't afford to make the choice to buy safety. Doesn't that just make you seethe?

(PS - for an idea of how toys should be made head over to the Great Toy Guide which has some great toy reviews - and these toys will be made properly and if they do collapse easily will be highlighted by their real life mummy reviewers).


TheMadHouse said...

I have to agree with you. Substandard toys are not acceptable anywhere in the world. I love the pirate boat sail too

Laura - Are We Nearly There Yet Mummy? said...

My boy would fit in perfectly in Bosnia. He is currently collecting guns ... and if he can't find one ... he makes on out of Duplo. Soon he will have an arsenal.

Michelloui said...

Thats really immoral that toy makers would do that! And really frustrating for you that these toys are all that are available.

And that sail is hilarious. They couldn't even put 'world govt' in swanky pirate writing!

Michelle said...

Gosh, it reminds me how narrow my radar is, I had no idea this sort of thing was going on. Mich x

nappy valley girl said...

It is appalling if substandard toys really are being dumped in poorer countries.

Having said that, many of the toys we have bought, both here in the US and at home, have fallen apart pretty quickly (but perhaps that is just my destructive twosome...).

Liz (LivingwithKids) said...

Sadly I think it might be a European-wide problem - we've seen some shocking toys on sale in Greece and Italy.

Anonymous said...

I do we do moan about H&S in the UK and the way it has gone mad over the years, but really, we are very lucky to be warned of potentially lethal toys. It definitely is not good enough to be selling poor quality toys for children who deserve the same as every one else. It also causes a class divide.

CJ xx

Calif Lorna said...

World Govt sounds like a dodgy 80s band! Love it!

Muddling Along Mummy said...

That's appalling that somewhere so near can have such dangerous toys available to children - horrid

And I've tagged you over at mine ( if you have time with everything else going on ...

Big Beluga Baby said...

Really bad isn't it. Harks back to your land mine and axe weekend post a while back!

I bought a kids fur-lined, ear flaps, peaked cap winter hat in Bishkek last year, and found that the bobble had been attached with a twisted, stiff little piece of wire (like mini head drill) that could only work its way through the fabric and into the head of the child wearing it. Needless to say, my one year old will not even consider putting one of those on these days.

Helps you to develop a feeling for what is sensible and what is not, I suppose, but makes being a parent a bit less relaxing when you realise that it genuinely might be useful to know how to give a child the Heimlich maneovre or whatever it is called.

Thanks for the plug by the way!

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

MH - it makes me so cross that people who don't have much money end up spending it on this type of toy.

Laura - your boy and mine would be great friends. Mine use Duplo and Mechanno to build amazing contraptions that are always turned into guns.

Michelleoui - I don't know if they actually do, but I can't imagine that anyone would plan to make toys that don't work so they must have done it by mistake, which then means that they had the toys and ... you can see why I might think that is what goes on. I love the sail, really tickles me everytime!

Michelle - it is scary and Bosnia is pretty close to the UK!

NVG - Some of the toys fall apart as they are being taken out of the box! My destructive twosome have also been responsible for some catastrophic toy failures though, but I couldn't really blame the toys ...

Liz - I'm interested in that as they are both in the EU and therefore should have stronger and more enforceable laws!

CJ - Health and Safety does have a role. The playgrounds here could do with a good does of health and safety. But I guess it is about finding a balance. I think it does also reinforce the differences between the haves and the have nots, which I find scary.

Califlorna - brilliant.

MAM - I'm sure these aren't the worst (although the sparking gun is pretty lethal). Thanks for the meme!

BBB - love you last post. I think I'm going to be the same when I get back, there are things that are dangerous and things that are, well, just not very at all!

goonerjamie said...

I want the sparky gun thing, and I want it now. Have tagged you over at mine, sorry.

goonerjamie said...

I want the sparky gun thing, and I want it now. Have tagged you over at mine, sorry.

angelsandurchinsblog said...

Love the 'world govt' flag! Couldn't make it up. I've just been blogging about the general uselessness of lots of toys, but can see I'll have to rethink. There is lots of plastic tat in the UK, but most of it isn't dangerous, and at least comes with strict guidelines about who it is suitable for. I can't imagine a world without Lego. Or plastic pirate ships, come to that.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see the pirate ship - it's exactly the same design as a wooden one my brother and I played with when we were small. And that one had exactly the same party trick of falling over on its side.

Iota said...

World Govt Ahoy! I have a mental image of Obama, Gordon Brown, Sarkozy and co, with eye patches and wooden legs, lurching about on the deck, bottles of rum in hand, greeting each other with "aaaaargh, aaaaargh, me hearties".

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

GJ - You can have it. I'm trying to get it out of the house. It is getting worse. Thanks for the tag!

A&U - it is brilliant. Makes me smile every day.

Owen - We have 2 pirate ships. This one is the only one I can get to stand up, even briefly. Drives me demented. But it gets to stay because I love the World Govt on the sails.

Iota - you've made me giggle a little too much at that imagery. It is the lurching about on deck singing yo ho ho and a bottle of rum that is really making me laugh.