Will we let children be children in Australia?

Australia was once leading the way in challenging the sexualisation of children. The 2008 Senate Inquiry into the Sexualisation of Children in the Contemporary Media Environment concluded that “the onus is on broadcasters, publishers, advertisers, retailers and manufacturers to take account of these community concerns [about the sexualisation of children]."

An 18 month review of this inquiry to assess whether industry had taken any proactive responsibility was due to take place in December 2009. It is now June 2011 and the review has still not happened. Now that the UK has taken significant steps to stop the sexualisation of children, what will Australia do?

Melinda Tankard Reist wrote about this on ABC The Drum.

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UK addresses sexualisation of children: what's Australia doing? 

A British six-month independent review into the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood, 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.
  • Covering up sexualised images on the front pages of magazines and newspapers so they are not in easy sight of children.

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 recommended 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?

Julie Gale, Director of Kids Free 2B Kids also had this to say in response to the recent UK report, as published on the Kids Free 2B Kids website, latest news 7th June

Kids Free 2B Kids welcomes the UK report of an Independent Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood titled: Letting Children be Children.

Read a summary here.

It should be said that the Australian Government was seen to be leading the way on this issue, when it held a senate inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment back in June 2008.

But the UK has now left us in its tracks....

In Australia there has been little to zero action on the recommendations from the 2008 inquiry.

The review promised 18 months later has never happened.

Recommendations from the Australian inquiry stated that although sexualisation is a societal issue and we are all responsible, the onus must lay with industry - that is advertisers, marketers, retailers, broadcasters...

In that time there has been absolutely no indication of proactive responsibility from industry.

We note UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the Children's Minister will invite "a wide range of businesses and regulators into Downing Street in October and ask them to report on steps they have taken to address the issues raised in this report".

We challenge the Australian Government to do the same...at the very least hold the promised review!

Furthermore, we challenge the Australian Government to pay heed to the increasing research and major concerns expressed by child psychiatrists and child psychologists.

We caution the UK to ensure the planned 'stock-take' in 18 months time' actually happens.

Enough reports..enough recommendations...enough finger wagging at the industry...time for action!!

Take Action

It’s time to put the pressure on. We want action on this issue and we need that review. So here’s what we want you to do:

Find your state Senators here:

http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/senators/index.htm (click on your state for a list of Senators. Just write one letter and email to all of them in your State individually.)

Find your member of parliament here:

http://www.aph.gov.au/HOUSE/members/member_photo_state.asp

Write to them. You might say something like:

Dear ..............,

In 2008 there was a Senate Inquiry into the Sexualisation of Children in the Contemporary Media Environment. The report on this inquiry concluded that “the onus is on broadcasters, publishers, advertisers, retailers and manufacturers to take account of these community concerns [about the sexualisation of children]”.

A review of this inquiry was to take place in December 2009, but this has not happened. The UK has recently taken steps to challenge the sexualisation of children, releasing an inquiry report, Letting Children be Children. It was reported that the UK prime minister has invited a "wide range of businesses and regulators into Downing Street in October and ask them to report on steps they have taken to address the issues raised in this report". I urge you to look at what similar action can be taken in Australia in response to our own 2008 Senate Inquiry. I would also like to know when the now over-due review of the 2008 senate inquiry will take place.

I look forward to your response.

Kind regards,

YOUR NAME.


Note: we don’t want all letters to be identical, so please use this letter as a guideline only. You might also include your personal concerns and experiences with this issue. Your letter doesn't need to be very long.

AND...please let us know when you've written, via the comments section below. It is encouraging for other members and will help us to keep track of our progress. Feel free to also post a copy and paste of any emails you send so that others can see too.


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