Push to outlaw sexy child ads

Jonathan Pearlman
August 15, 2007
SEXUAL images of children in advertising may be curbed amid concerns they are leading to eating disorders and encouraging girls as young as four to buy make-up and bras.

The federal Minister for Communications, Helen Coonan, agreed yesterday to order an inquiry into the sexual exploitation of children in advertising and the media. The inquiry, requested by the Australian Democrats, will be conducted in October as part of a broader review of television and radio codes of practice.

The Democrats leader, Lyn Allison, said the growing use by advertisers of prepubescent models and sexualised images aimed at the youth market had caused children to be obsessed with their body images.

"We're pushing children into being sexual beings much younger than they are ready," she said. "I find it sickening to see a 12-year-old girl with a pouty look on her face advertising sexy clothing. We're talking about children at the age of nine worrying whether they look sexy or not, and bras being targeted at four- to six-year-olds."

The inquiry follows the outcry over a range of Kylie Minogue lingerie that was marketed at girls as young as eight.

A 15-year-old model, Claire Quirk, was dumped last month as the face of Melbourne Spring Fashion Week after the city council decided she was too young.

Psychologists and children's advocates have said that sexualisation of children in advertisements can lead to depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem and sexualised behaviour.

"Marketers use these images and they walk away - but families are left to deal with the consequences," said Jane Roberts, president of Young Media Australia. "We're thinking of provocative images of prepubescent-looking girls to advertise jeans and clothes, and magazines for five- to 12-year-olds where you find images consistently portraying very thin-looking girls."

The president of the Australian Psychological Society, Dr Amanda Gordon, who has lobbied for the inquiry, said: "Younger and younger children are being hospitalised and diagnosed with anorexia, which can be fatal.

"Children are being persuaded about the importance of being sexy before they even have the attributes that would make them sexy."

The inquiry, to be conducted by the television and radio industries, will consider the "sources and beneficiaries of sexualisation of children".

"The minister has said on many occasions that protecting children should be above politics," said Senator Coonan's spokeswoman, Katherine Meier. "This is an example of the Senate working together to bring this about."

The Australian Communications and Media Authority will report to the Government in March on ways to prevent the use of sexual imagery in the media and how to combat its effects. A motion to set up the review, proposed by the Democrats and amended by the Government, is due to be considered in the Senate today.