Latvian lawmakers are considering imposing weight limits on children's school bags following a study by the Ministry of Education and Science that concluded 60 percent of Latvian students have posture problems.
Research showed that many students carry almost a third of their body weight to and from school every day. The average weight of a school bag is 10-12 percent of a student's body weight, according to research by the Pedagogy and Psychology Institute.
A first draft of the weight regulations, which were drawn up by the Welfare Ministry, was rejected by the Cabinet of Ministers on Aug. 19.
The regulations state that students under the age of nine must not carry bags exceeding 3.5 kilos and that 16-year-olds may not carry more than 5 kilos.
The Cabinet of Ministers sent the proposal back to the ministry for reworking, said Rita Naseniece, a Welfare Ministry spokeswoman.
"Our point of view is that these rules are a minimum requirement," she said. "Children are not camels. They cannot carry around several tons."
Marita Brice, a spokeswoman for the Cabinet of Ministers, said the draft proposal was sent back to the Welfare Ministry because there were some uncertainties about funding.
"The proposal was not just about the weight of school bags but also about renovations of shower areas in schools and other renovations," she said.
Naseniece said the Welfare Ministry lacks funds to require schools to provide lockers for students.
"It would be too expensive to come up with demands to control schools, forcing them to provide lockers for the students. But already in a lot of schools students can leave their books after the end of the day," she said. "I guess it would make sense to run an awareness campaign, but it has more to do with the attitude of educational workers."
Naseniece concedes it would be difficult to enforce weight regulations. She added that they haven't considered any punishments for breaking the rules.
According to the proposed regulations, the state's sanitary inspection department would oversee enforcement, said Brice, who added that enforcement was vague.
The director of Riga Public School 85, Ilgvars Kelmins, said his school began examining school bag weights earlier this summer.
"I think that our students' bags are very big, and they carry books that are too heavy and too many papers," he said. "I think our government should look into this problem and make sure Latvian students don't carry too much."
The original plan was for the draft regulations to be amended by Sept. 1 this year, but since they were sent back to the Welfare Ministry, Brice said she could only guess when they would be amended.
Estonian legislation went into effect on Aug. 1 regulating school bag weight. Under the law, first-to third-grade students are not allowed to carry bags heavier than 3 kilos; fourth to sixth graders may carry up to 3.5 kilos and bags for seventh through ninth graders can't exceed 4.5 kilos. There are some complications in interpreting the law because music school students often have to carry instruments as well.
In Estonia teachers may be fined up to $40 if their students bags are too heavy, but a case has to be initiated by either students or their parents.
Lithuania currently has no law regulating school bags.