Report calls time on sexualisation of childhood

Parents voice concern at sexualised images surrounding their children. Publishers, retailers and broadcasters find themselves in the dock.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has given his strong backing to proposals aimed at preventing the commercialisation and sexualisation of children.

Responding to Letting Children be Children, a report published on Monday, he claimed it was 'a giant step forward for protecting childhood and making Britain more family-friendly.'

Compiled by Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of the Mother's Union, the report reveals the concerns of parents unhappy with the increasingly sexualised culture surrounding their pre-teen children – a culture they feel they have no control over.

Areas of particular concern include sexually explicit music videos, outdoor advertising that contains sexualised images and the amount of sexual content in family programmes on TV.

The report, which took evidence from 2,000 parents and 500 children, speaks of the sexualised 'wallpaper' surrounding young people. One proposed solution is a single website on which parents can complain about any programme, advert, product or service.

'Parents need encouragement to feel they can change things,' says Mr Bailey, 'and that their voices will be heard. It's not enough for businesses to work out what is acceptable from what people complain about afterwards.'

The report criticises the TV watchdog Ofcom after parental anger at sexually explicit dance routines by stars such as Rihanna and Christina Aguilera on The X Factor.

Retailers are also targeted. In a speech last year, Cameron criticised the sale of padded bras and sexy knickers for under-10's, a 'Lolita' bed aimed at six-year-olds and the Playboy logo on a T-shirt for primary school children.

Yesterday, to coincide with the report, the British Retail Consortium published new guidelines, including a ban on thongs and black underwear being sold to under 12's.

For the moment, the Prime Minister is not proposing any changes to the law but says he'll grill all companies and regulators on progress made at a Downing Street summit in October.

Government interference

The Children's Minister Sarah Teather says: 'It is not Government's role to interfere in family life.' And, as Lisa Markwell wrote in The Independent, 'My 12-year-old used to watch Rihanna (she has now moved on to Friends), and if you can pick her out as the prematurely sexualised one in the playground, good luck.'

But Labour Education Spokesman Andy Burnham believes that only a change in the laws will do. 'There is all-party support for action so what is the Prime Minister waiting for?' he asks.

You Decide

  1. Is it wrong to buy some knickers for a seven-year-old with 'Porn Star' written on them?
  2. 'Music videos should definitely have age restrictions on them.' Agree?


  1. One-minute soapbox: You have sixty seconds to say why you agree/don't agree with the statement: 'All sexualisation before the age of 12 is wrong'.
  2. A government minister says it's not the role of government to interfere in family life. Write an opinion column called: 'Do families need governments to protect them?'

Some People Say...

“Rihanna's rich. She's a good role model for girls.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Has the average age for first sexual intercourse gone down?
No, it hasn't. There's just a fear that the innocence of childhood is being lost.
But no one is legally bound by these proposals?
At the moment it's a voluntary code with businesses being told to police themselves. But all the big names have signed up to the agreement so it will affect shopping trips.
Is the problem sorted then?
Not really. The trouble with 'top-down' guidance such as this is that it doesn't change people's motives. Parents who bought this stuff for their children before may still want to; and if they do, they'll find it.
Is this just about skimpy clothes?
No. As one parent said, she doesn't mind how much skin is on show on TV. It's all about whether the woman is a sex object. That's what she doesn't want her daughter to imitate.

Word Watch

– a novel by Vladimir Nabokov concerning a man's obsession with a 12-year-old girl. The word has since come to describe a sexually precocious girl.
– Founded by Hugh Heffner in 1953, Playboy is a famous – or notorious – adult entertainment brand. The company publishes a magazine, runs several nightclubs (including one recently opened in London) and sells clothes and other merchandise around the world.


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