The Australia Institute has just issued a report provocatively titled Corporate Paedophilia (see summary here).
It examines concerns with the early sexualisation of children, particularly young girls, and the role of corporate Australia in supporting and promoting this through marketing. Emma Rush, who co-authored the report, also touches on aspects such as sales and peer pressure in a piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.
The various commercial outlets criticised in the report have not surprisingly all come out against the report and its findings, saying that child models used in their promotional materials are not exploited in this way.I don’t want to get into the specifics of that dispute, but I don’t think there’s much doubt that styles for young girls are increasingly mini versions of women’s wear. Some department stores are stocking the popular Bratz branded (amongst other brands) padded bralettes and G-strings for girls aged 6 to 10, which is a low in marketing and common sense. This is the second time in recent years that Australian chain stores have courted controversy by stocking ‘adult apparel’ for sale to children.
I’ve been pushing for some time to get a stronger national approach to child protection and children’s rights issues, and the dangers of sexualisation of children are a concern. I have had people contact me about this issue previously, and one parent described the garments on sale to young girls as a peer pressure nightmare and the only people who would find them in any way appealing would be paedophiles.
There is an increasing desire by marketers to turn our children into mini adults in order to make sales. Childhood fashions are increasingly becoming micro versions of adult wear and while this is not so much an issue in terms of boys’-wear, girls are increasingly being pushed to wear adult style underwear, tight and revealing clothing and high heel shoes in the name of fashion.
Whilst I acknowledge that we live in a fast changing world which is very different to a few decades ago, I think there is a real risk that we are not allowing children, and particularly young girls, to be children. Marketers are forcing girls into an adult mould before some even learn how to read, interact with older people or to think critically. We are pushing them into a corner where they become obsessed with how their bodies look in clothing that is not suitable for their age group, and whether we like it or not we are forcing on them an adult sexuality which is unnecessary and potentially quite harmful.
The Australia Institute Report also touches on the issue of highly sexual music videos which are shown at children’s viewing hours. Given that I’ve publicly supported the right of shows like Big Brother to be screened, it may seem incongruous that I’m concerned about this, but I think there is a big difference between adults choosing to watch shows with heavy sexual content, and children being regularly exposed to content with strong sexual overtones, even when it is clearly less explicit.
I am apprehensive about overstating issues such as this, as there is always a risk of a response developing which can be equally unbalanced in a counter-direction. However, the deliberate sexualisation of children is dangerous and undesirable, and does merit wider public debate. The Australia Institute will be soon issuing a discussion paper on possible policy solutions to the problem of marketing inappropriately to children.