DUBAI // Fireworks are not child's play - and are illegal to sell without a licence, police have warned in advance of Eid.
Celebrations at the end of Ramadan often involve the hisses and bangs of fireworks, but beyond the calls for increased penalties against illegal traders, their use is a public safety risk, officials said.
"Issuing fines does not present a real deterrent to traders who target youth by increasing the sale of such items during the holiday periods," said Maj Gen Mohammed Al Mansoori, the director of the Dubai Police Facilities Protection and Crisis Administration department. "The current penalties do not match the potential danger of these products."
According to Brig Abdullah Al Ghaithi, the deputy director of the department, the Government is studying the criminalisation of the illicit sale and import of consumer fireworks.
"Shops and traders are regularly inspected, the fines they receive vary between Dh1,000 and Dh5,000," he said.
It is illegal for anyone not licensed or qualified as event organisers, to have fireworks in their possession. However, it remains a major "phenomenon during Eid celebrations", according to Redha Hassan Salman, the director of the Public Health and Safety Department, Dubai Municipality.
One simple mistake, he said, can turn a celebration into an unthinkable tragedy.
"We, along with the police, have implemented strict surveillance regarding this issue, but parents also have a big responsibility," Mr Salman said.
"They should advise their children on the dangers of fireworks and to inform the police immediately of where they got them from."
Brig Al Ghaithi added: "If a person is caught selling or using fireworks we not only fine them, but we refer them to prosecutors who then charge them the cost of destroying these products."
This year, a team from Dubai police's CID, the Department of Economic Development and Dubai Municipality made 407 inspections in shops around the emirate, he said.
Forty-five shops were found illegally selling fireworks and were fined. Although no specific law bans trading in fireworks, a Ministry of Interior decree in 2003 ordered municipalities across the country to bar their unregulated sale. The ministry now regulates the trade, said Brig Al Ghaithi.
Between 2003 and 2006, 30 tonnes of illegal fireworks were seized by police in Dubai. In 2007, 30 tonnes were seized, and in 2008 the figure was 31 tonnes, and police in Ras Al Khaimah recently seized a "large quantity" of illegally imported fireworks in advance of Eid, officials said.
Brig Al Ghaithi said the vigilance paid off, as less than a tonne of fireworks were seized in Dubai in 2009 and 2010.
"The rise was registered mostly at port seizures. These products were previously imported as toys and children's items and since the introduction of toy safety decrees these items were seized," he said.
But illegal imports continue because fireworks are in such high demand, especially this time of year, he said. "Over the years children have evolved from playing with simple firecrackers to creating bigger and more explosive fireworks through what has been offered to them in the markets by rogue traders," he said.
Parents have to be more vigilant and aware of the dangers of these items, Brig Al Ghaithi warned.
A statement from Brig Gen Mohammad Saleh Badah Awadi of the Ministry of the Interior, echoed those concerns, saying parents should take care not to buy any toys - especially fireworks - that could prove harmful during Eid.
"We have discovered that parents who bring their children with burns to hospitals often register them as burns originating from home to conceal fireworks as the cause," Brig Al Ghaithi said.
A recent incident, according to the Ministry of Interior, involved a young boy who suffered serious injuries from a bottle rocket that shot into his neck after he lit it.
"The kind of firecrackers and fireworks now are more dangerous, and young children do not understand that," Brig Al Ghaithi said.
"Some rockets employ a delay mechanism after they are sparked, inciting the child to come close to see why [it did not launch], resulting in their injuries or even deaths.
*With additional reporting by Maey El Shoush