The premature sexualisation of children has long been an issue of concern to us; particularly the role the media have to play in the creation of a society which, in the words of David Cameron, we appear to be ‘sleepwalking to a place where porn is the norm’.
A survey by the Mothers’ Union published earlier this year found that two-thirds of parents thought television, films, magazines and the internet made children sexually aware at a younger age than they would be otherwise. The report sited the erosion of the TV watershed as a major contributory factor.
Other research has found that contact with sexual imagery from an early age can have a devastating effect on mental and physical health. Possible ongoing effects identified by the research include: low self-esteem, poor academic performance, depression, eating disorders such as anorexia and increased sexual risk-taking.
This week Mr Cameron ordered an independent review into whether retailers and broadcasters should be subject to new restrictions preventing them selling sexualised products aimed at children.
The review will examine the scale of the commercialisation and premature sexualisation of childhood and ask whether there should a new watchdog modelled on the Advertising Standards Authority to police a code of conduct on age-appropriate marketing, including the possibility of having sexually-explicit music videos shown only after the nine o'clock watershed.
Launching the report Children's Minister Sarah Teather said it was the cumulative impact of things like magazine images and unsuitable products marketed at young people that were of most concern.
It will be the fifth government-led review into this subject since December 2008, including a review by Linda Papadopoulos, the child psychologist, in a report commissioned by Labour and published in February this year. That report called for an online "one-stop shop" to allow the public to voice its concerns regarding irresponsible marketing that sexualises children, with an onus on regulatory authorities to take action. This is clearly a ‘hot’ topic which won’t go away.
The leader of the enquiry, Reg Bailey, has called for parents to send him examples of products of concern; further details of where this should be sent to will be available next week.
We have lobbied government on this issue and we have also written to the Education Minister, Michael Gove, asking him to insert clauses in the upcoming Education and Children’s bill to introduce provisions to ensure that unsuitable sexually graphic material is not displayed at or below children's eye-level, near children's publications or without opaque sleeves. We also called for printed media to be assigned age ratings such as are assigned to films.