Shops selling sexualised products aimed at children could face new restrictions under plans being considered by the Government.
Watch Children’s Minister Sarah Teather talk about the review
In recent months there has been increasing concern over the sexualisation of children, with products such as padded bikinis for seven-year-olds causing alarm.
Now Children’s Minister Sarah Teather has launched an independent review into the sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood.
The review will explore whether rules should prevent the marketing of overtly sexual products to children, or whether a watchdog on the issue is needed.
A code of conduct on “age appropriate” marketing may also be recommended to the Government by the review, which will gather the views of parents and businesses.
Sarah Teather said: “We have heard from parents about the impact of going into shops and seeing things that are unsuitable.”
She said seeing such “unsuitable” images only adds to the “pressure on families”.
She added: “By reviewing commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood we want to better understand not only how we can help parents resist these things, but also how we encourage all businesses to take their responsibilities as seriously as the best ones already do.”
The Chief Executive of Christian charity the Mothers’ Union, Reg Bailey, is to lead the review and he says it will “help find a way that allows children to be children and parents to feel properly equipped to deal with the pressures on their children as mini-consumers”.
Mr Bailey called for parents to contact him with examples of inappropriate sexual material being aimed at children. He will also look at the “tone” and “style” of child-focused marketing.
“When you are so bombarded by marketing and sexualised imagery, it almost becomes wallpaper”, Mr Bailey commented.
Justine Roberts, from online forum Mumsnet, said she doubted whether legislation to ban sexualised products for children could work. But she did welcome the chance for public debate on the issue.
And she said: “I think in commercialisation and advertising, that is the place where Government can make a difference if they’re brave. I don’t see why children need to be advertised to when it’s not their money, what you’re doing is encouraging them to pester their poor parents.”
Katherine Rake, Chief Executive of the Family and Parenting Institute, said: “Parents tell us how worried they are that commercial pressures and early sexualisation are robbing children of the childhood they deserve and that they feel powerless to do anything about it.
“I am sure that parents up and down the country will warmly welcome the fact that the Government is taking these concerns seriously and will look to the review to be robust and challenging in its recommendations about how creeping commercialisation and sexualisation of children can be addressed.”
The review will report back to the Government in May next year. It follows a report from Dr Linda Papadopoulos on the sexualisation of young people.
Her report, commissioned by the previous Government, said children are being harmed by exposure to sexual and violent images in the media and parents have limited opportunities to prevent it.
Dr Papadopoulos’ report recommended selling games consoles with parental controls already switched on and said adult content should be filtered out by default on “child friendly” computers and mobile phones.
In April Primark was forced to withdraw padded bikinis for seven-year-olds after critics condemned the store for fuelling child sexualisation.
The Children’s Society slammed the popular high street chain for “premature sexualisation and unprincipled advertising”.
In February, before the General Election, David Cameron warned: “More and more today, sexual-provocative images are invading public space – space shared by children.”
Writing in the Daily Mail, Mr Cameron continued: “In the Tube station, at the bus stop, on the billboard – there’s the creeping sense that we’re sleepwalking to a place where ‘porn is the norm’.”
He said it is “our shared responsibility to protect children from aggressive commercialism and premature sexualisation”.