A six-month independent review into the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood, in the UK published Monday, called on retailers, media and regulatory bodies to take action in the best interest of children.
The inquiry report, Letting Children Be Children, is the product of surveys and interviews with hundreds of parents, along with input from children and young people, focus groups and submissions from interested parties.
Commissioned by PM David Cameron, the inquiry was headed by Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of Mothers’ Union, who found parents felt undermined by a sexualised culture in their efforts to raise healthy children. “Society has become increasingly full of sexualised imagery. This has created a wallpaper to children’s lives. Parents feel there is no escape and no clear space where children can be children,” he said.
The recommendations include:
• Providing parents with one single website to make it easier to complain about any program, ad, product or service.
• Putting age restrictions on music videos to prevent children buying sexually explicit videos and screening guides for broadcasters
• Making it easier for parents to block adult and age-restricted material from the internet
• Retailers offering age-appropriate clothes for children – the retail industry should sign up to the British Retail Consortium’s new guidelines which checks and challenges the design, buying, display and marketing of clothes, products and services for children.
• Restricting outdoor ads containing sexualised imagery where large numbers of children are likely to see them
• Banning the employment of children under 16 as brand ambassadors and in peer-to-peer marketing, and improving parents’ awareness of advertising and marketing techniques aimed at children.
• ‘Lads’ magazines to be moved to the top shelf in shops or sold in covers.
In an encouraging sign, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has acted by publishing good practice guidelines on children’s wear. Nine major companies had already signed up.
The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) also came out in support of the review’s recommendations. “The protection of children from harmful or inappropriate advertising is one of the Advertising Standards Authority’s top priorities and to do this we know we need to reflect the views of parents and young people in our work,” Chief Executive Guy Parker said. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England also welcomed the report.
Bailey has recommend Government monitoring of implementation of the recommendations and a stock-take in 18 months. The Prime Minister and Children’s Minister will invite businesses and regulators into Downing Street in October and ask them to report on steps they have taken to address the issues.
Wouldn’t that be nice.
Child development authorities, child psychologists, and children’s advocacy groups have been waiting since 2008 for action following the Senate committee inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment.
The report made a number of recommendations which seem to have sunk without a trace and industry has shown almost no willingness to be pro-active. Profits before children seem to be the motto despite a growing body of evidence of harm to the physical and mental health of children. As Emma Rush, lead author of the Australia Institute’s Corporate Paedophilia report summarises:
There is substantial evidence that sexualisation harms children: it promotes body image concerns, eating disorders, and gender stereotyping. Premature sexualisation also erases the line between who is and is not sexually mature, and as such, may increase the risk of child sexual abuse by undermining the important social norm that children are sexually unavailable.
The Senate Inquiry recommended a review of the recommendations – supposed to take place in December 2009 – to assess the response of industry to the recommendations. A year and a half later, and we’re still waiting.
Meanwhile, ‘self-regulation’ continues to mean the industry gets to do what it wants and get away with it.
If Britain’s regulatory bodies, retailers and children’s commissioner can get behind the Bailey recommendations, why can’t the equivalent bodies in Australia get on board?
Here’s what I said about the issue on Channel 7’s Sunrise. Was good to see Kochie realise that we also had an inquiry and a report which was now wasting away on a shelf.