• Kyodo

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Japan’s consumer center said Thursday about 120 children were treated at medical institutions over the past seven years after swallowing tiny magnetic balls, and urged parents to keep such products away from children.

The National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan said it knows of 124 cases from December 2010 to March this year in which children were taken to hospital after swallowing small magnetic balls sold as toys.

Children are meant to play with the balls by forming them into different shapes, using their magnetic attraction to each other, according to the consumer center.

But if swallowed the magnetic balls can cause holes in the surface of the stomach or bowel, or even cause organs to fuse, through their magnetic power. If swallowed, a ball cannot be expelled from the body if its diameter is greater than the width of the child’s digestive tract.

Last December, a 3-year-old boy swallowed five magnetic balls each 3 millimeters in diameter that he had received as a Christmas present. During surgery to remove the objects, the doctor found them to be piercing the surfaces of both the stomach and bowel.

In January, three holes were found in the small intestine of a 1-year-old girl who had swallowed 37 tiny magnetic balls. The child had suffered prolonged vomiting and was initially diagnosed as suffering from gastritis, the consumer center said.

U.S. and European Union authorities have issued warnings about the dangers of magnetic toys, and have prohibited retailers from selling such products to children under age 14 since 2009, but there is no such regulation in Japan.

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