Sexualisation of children a public health issue

Carolyn Moynihan
12 April 2012
Reproduced with Permission

Australian doctors are calling for an inquiry into what has been labelled the "premature sexualisation of children in marketing and advertising", with the Australian Medical Association arguing the practice is detrimental to child health and development.

Melinda Tankard Reist, author of a 2009 book on the sexualisation of girls, hopes that the doctors' voice will achieve what years of advocacy from other professionals has failed to do: get effective government regulation of advertising. She says that in Britain and France, these industries are under considerable pressure to change their ways following parliamentary inquiries into the sexualisation of children.

AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton says the proliferation of advertising images depicting images of young children along with messages that "were disturbing and sexually exploitative" are clear evidence that self-regulation by the advertising industry have failed.

"These are highly sexualised ads that target children, and the advertising industry is getting away with it," Dr Hambleton said.

"There is strong evidence that premature sexualisation is likely to be detrimental to child health and development, particularly in the areas of body image and sexual health."

Dr Hambleton has called for a government inquiry to examine the potential introduction of measures, "including legislation, to protect the health and development of our children by shielding them from sexualised and other inappropriate advertising".

"Stronger action is needed to stop this practice of pushing adult themes to young children, especially pre-teen girls."

Ms Tankard Reist adds:

We need a regulatory system independent of the vested interests of marketers, and which draws upon the expertise of child health professionals.

It is time for corporate social responsibility in this area. If industry continues to show almost no willingness to be proactive, then someone should step in and make it do the right thing. Corporate profits shouldn't come before the welfare of children and young people.

How hard can it be for societies that boast about their achievements in women's rights, to protect the health and wellbeing of young girls?