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'Kiddie phones' calm anxious parents

ITALY. Wondering why children have not arrived home from school on time could soon become a thing of the past for Italian parents. Telecom Italia, the country's telecommunications giant, is to market mobile phones specially designed for children.

Aimed at the six to 14 age bracket, the first of the new mobiles could make their appearance before the end of the school year in June.

Made of unbreakable plastic, they will have just five preset numbers, allowing children to keep in touch with anxious relatives but keeping to a minimum the possibility of nasty surprises on the family phone bill.

Hyper-protective parents will welcome the security offered by the phones, particularly in the wake of a series of cases involving paedophiles, including the abduction and murder near Naples of an eight-year-old on his way to school.

With 9 million mobiles (telefonini) already on the streets, the adult market is saturated and Telecom Italia is looking for a new way to increase sales.

But Ernesto Caffo, professor of child neuropsychiatry at the University of Modena, and founder of the children's helpline Telefono Azzurro, warned:

"Children need to speak to people who are there with them, not at the other end of a telephone. The phones could be used as an alibi for leaving children on their own when it would be better for parents to stay with them."

But with special rates already promised, brightly coloured "kiddie phones" could soon be vying with designer satchels as the latest playground fashion accessory.

David Newbold

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