Stroller safety

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 April, 1998, 12:00am

When the ubiquitous baby stroller was invented in the 70s it was a very basic device consisting of a steel frame with a canvas sling for the baby. The seat could tilt horizontally to carry a tiny infant, or be raised like a deckchair to adapt to the growing child until two or three years of age. Since then, the design has been refined out of recognition, less, perhaps, for the comfort and well-being of the occupant, than for the profit of the manufacturers. No longer is one pushchair sufficient for a child from birth to kindergarten. Versions are now made for different stages of development. The first size caters for infants up to six months, like the model in which eight-month-old Rai Ugal died. Parents are therefore induced to buy at least two prams during a child's babyhood.

The troubled history of the stroller in Hong Kong shows how unsatisfactory many recent models have been. They are just as practical in use and more attractive in design, but the safety aspect has become secondary. Even the stringent standards imposed in the last three years cannot guarantee protection.

Yesterday, a saleswoman insisted a pushchair identical to the one in which Ugal died was suitable for a child up to the age of two. As it had passed British safety standards for a baby no more than six months of age, it cannot be withdrawn from the market. The Consumer Council also endorses safety standards imposed in the US, Australia and New Zealand, claiming that Hong Kong is too small to have its own regulations. But with fewer than four million inhabitants of New Zealand and more than six million in Hong Kong, that is hardly convincing.

If an SAR safety code on manufactured goods is impractical, there is a simple solution in this particular case. That is to insist that retailers attach a warning label to every stroller they stock, emphasising that a child should never be left unattended in it. Stores which sell baby equipment also have a responsibility to train staff so that they give reliable advice to purchasers. Tiny lives could depend on it.