Mosquito devices are machines that give off a sound which most adults can’t hear, but which causes children and young people distress.
They have been used in Scotland to make young people leave public spaces, including train stations.
Selling and using them is a breach of international human rights law, and for over 15 years our office has been calling for them to be banned.
Our work on mosquito devices
Why do Mosquito devices infringe on human rights?
Using mosquito devices infringes on a number of rights in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). These include:
- the principle of non-discrimination (article 2),
- the principle that the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration in all decisions affecting them (article 3),
- the right to freedom of assembly and association (article 15),
- the right to protection from violence, abuse and injury (article 19), and
- the right to play, leisure and recreation (article 31).
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child calls for a ban
In its 2008 Concluding Observations, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concerns regarding the general climate of intolerance towards children in the UK, especially adolescents.
And in its its 2016 Concluding Observations, the Committee explicitly called on the UK to ban the use of mosquito devices to disperse gatherings of young people in public spaces. By doing this, the right to freedom of movement and peaceful assembly would be better guaranteed.
More in the Rights questions and answers section
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe also calls for a ban
In 2010, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe unanimously adopted a recommendation calling on its 47 member states to ban the sale and use of mosquito devices.
It found that using these devices to disperse children and young people is a disproportionate interference with their rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This protects the right to respect for private life, including the right to respect for physical integrity.
The use of these devices may also – depending on circumstances – interfere with Article 11 of the ECHR, which guarantees the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
As using acoustic pain to get someone to leave an area is degrading, it may also be a breach of a child’s right under Article 3 of the ECHR to be free from degrading treatment.
The UK Parliament is represented on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
The UK Parliament is made up of MPs from several political parties, including ones that aren’t in the Government. PACE makes sure these parties still have a voice at the Council of Europe. Members of the UK Parliament elect the UK delegation to PACE, and must make sure this reflects the balance of political parties in the Parliament at the time.
PACE’s mission is to uphold the shared values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It:
- holds governments to account over their human rights records,
- presses states to achieve and maintain democratic standards,
- uncovers human rights violations,
- ensures states keep their human rights promises,
- demands answers from states around possible human rights violations, and
- recommends sanctions where necessary.
PACE also makes proposals for improving Europe’s laws and practices, and provides a cross-party forum for debate to which the governments of the Council of Europe must collectively reply.
More in the Rights questions and answers section
Who is using Mosquito devices in Scotland today?
A Scottish Youth Parliament survey suggested children are encountering Mosquito devices in areas where public bodies believe none are installed.
303 Respondents from Aberdeenshire, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, East Renfrewshire, North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, West Dunbartonshire and South Ayrshire reported either encountering the devices or being aware of their use.
As well as this, respondents reported encounters with Mosquito devices or awareness of their use in six of the eight council areas that did not hold information on the use of such devices.
Why should mosquito devices be banned?
The message sent by using mosquito devices is that children and young people are unwelcome and deserve to be repelled. This further entrenches negative and intolerant attitudes towards them.
Together Scotland’s State of Children’s Rights in Scotland 2016 report documents the views of young people around Mosquito devices. In this, the young people say using the device is unfair, negatively impacts health and fails to tackle the root causes of antisocial behaviour.
A study undertaken by the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health concluded that the device particularly affects infants and young children. It noted that younger children will be unable to get away from mosquito devices, as the adults responsible for them may not hear the noise.
It went on to suggest the noise emitted by the Mosquito may have impacts on children beyond their hearing. For example, it may potentially cause nausea, dizziness and pain, and may also affect children’s sense of balance.
What have we done to campaign against Mosquito devices?
The office of the Commissioner has been campaigning for a ban since 2007 and we have supported the Scottish Youth Parliaments campaign against mosquito devices: Mosquito Devices can buzz off! We’ve also submitted evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee on this issue.
In 2017, we supported MSYPs to achieve a ban on mosquito devices across all Scotrail stations.
What should the Scottish Government do to outlaw Mosquito devices?
The Scottish Government must work with the UK Government and public bodies in Scotland to ban mosquito devices and other devices like them. Their use breaches the human rights of children.
It should also consider whether the Public Sector Equality Duty, which covers age as a protected characteristic – including for people under 18 – could be an additional lever to make sure that public sector organisations and their private sector partners and suppliers do not use mosquito devices. The duty may be equally relevant in relation to children and young people whose disabilities may make them more vulnerable to the impacts of the devices.
Finally, the Scottish Government should consider the position of the mosquito devices in terms of environmental legislation and the law relating to noise nuisances in the Antisocial Behaviour (Scotland) Act 2004. This is a matter that potentially affects all children and young people, and one where Government needs to take responsibility and do the right thing— to safeguard their health and wellbeing, to respect their dignity and to protect their rights.