Toys of violence

March 02, 2016


The writer is a police officer.
The writer is a police officer.

IN this age of advanced technology, where violent forms of entertainment thrive on the screen and in cyberspace, parenting becomes a challenging task, as children want to emulate what they see. The adoption of a resolution last year by the Sindh Assembly demanding a ban on the manufacturing, import and sale of toy guns — often used in actual hold-ups — was a step in the right direction.

Those who purchase toy guns, despite the fact that they promote ‘hyper tendencies’ among children, are clearly indulging in irresponsible behaviour. Such toys convince children that weapons are the solution to all their problems.

Look at the figures. The total revenue of the global toy market is $84.1 billion. Recent years have seen an accelerated trend in the sale of toy guns. With 6,000 toy enterprises producing 75pc of toys manufactured across the world, one can see the profit motives of the sellers — and why they would want to produce an item that is popular.

Toy guns can cause immense psychological damage.

The issue is not a trivial one. Though toy guns, for the most part, cannot physically harm children — although the example of Afghanistan cited in this article shows that it is possible — they can do psychological damage. Hence the need for policy guidelines, parliamentary deliberations, as well as input from academia and psychologists for a subsequent law to be formulated.

There have been administrative measures such as the one in Peshawar stemming from the demand of a civil society organisation to impose a ban on toy guns. A one-month ban was indeed imposed. But the malaise cannot be tackled through administrative orders alone, and there must be realisation of the inherent dangers of exposing children to tools that emulate violence.

Even in a tribal society like Afghanistan where guns are considered the ornaments of menfolk, there is growing awareness of the role of guns in undermining the already fragile rule of law. Last year’s ban on toy guns in Afghanistan shows that many realise the negative impact on children of a culture of violence. Afghanistan took this decision after reports that more than 100 children were injured by toy guns over Eid, some of which have plastic or rubber bullets.

According to the US Bureau of Justice, during 1987, over 1,400 toy guns were used in crimes in New York City. Cracking down on crime from January 1985 to September 1989, US police departments reported they had confiscated 31,650 imitation guns.

But the danger does not lie in the possession of toy guns alone. Syllabi may also encourage violent tendencies. Even at the nursery level, children are made to learn ‘G is for gun’ and ‘T is for tank’. Play stations, video games, even cartoons and shows, may project violence. In rural areas especially, parents are totally ignorant of the negative consequences of such toys and gadgets. As a result, the majority believes that conflict is always to be resolved through violent means.

In games like ‘Counter-Strike’ and ‘Call of Duty’, children are tempted either to join the law enforcers or terrorist groups. Violent media images and objects that stimulate fear and anxiety give rise to a heightened ‘fight or flight’ response in children. Research shows that while watching a violent movie or playing video games with violence as the dominant theme, a child’s pulse rate accelerates, hands sweat, his mouth goes dry and his breathing accelerates. Playing games like cops and robbers, target shooting etc, children unconsciously shuttle between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ passions.

According to George Gerbner’s ‘cultivation theory’, the media cultivates its own culture and when children are exposed to violent games and movies they believe they should imitate the characters being shown. According to him, “heavy consumption of violence-related television content leads viewers to believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is”.

To discourage violence-inducing toys, the role of parents and teachers is more important than that of governments. So many parents, especially those living in the rural areas, do not know about the consequences of playing with toys that generate aggressive tendencies. These toys glamorise war and conflict. Surely, it is better to select toys that infuse the spirit of team-building and sharing.

In 2013, to bring down the crime rate in Mexico’s capital city, police destroyed thousands of toy guns to stop them from becoming a real threat on the streets. In 2011, in an Indian village, children voluntarily burnt their toy guns. In Costa Rica, an increasing number of criminals are using toy guns, hence it becomes difficult for the untrained eye to differentiate between the fake and the real.

It is important to conduct further research on the impact of such toys and games and focus on alternatives that can teach children about peace rather than conflict.

The writer is a police officer.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2016