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Penny Booth: Sexualising Children

Date:7 DEC 2010

Penny BoothI am only going to talk about one thing this week.


As well as getting your attention, I intend highlighting something which has certainly been mentioned in this column before - the unnecessary and dangerous hastening of the end of childhood and the sexualising of children.

Sex is wonderful and necessary, and combined with love and respectful care and concern for the individual and its effect upon our society, it makes the world go round in ways in which mere money cannot possibly compete. The combination of sex and money may, though, for some pitied individuals, be essential for life. I can imagine that selling sex may be better than some other activities that raise money. Suggestions not required, but thank you.

Where sex and money are directed at children, it is completely unacceptable in a society that supposes and even proclaims that it cares about the vulnerable members at all. I was delighted to read in the Sunday Times on 5 December 2010 that there is to be a government enquiry (launched Monday 6 December) to examine whether there ought to be new rules governing the marketing (and sale, I hope!) of inappropriate items to pre-teens, particularly girls. It seems that Tesco, the big supermarket, has already removed from sale online a ‘pole-dancing kit' (phone a friend if you aren't sure) aimed at children, yes, children, containing items that might not only frighten the horses and the servants, but be insidiously damaging to the gentle nurturing of young minds - the wearers and the watchers. Thank goodness for common sense.

That supermarket is not alone in apparently thinking that marketing using sex is ok where children are concerned, so let's not demonise (just) them. Many commercial organisations are using doubtful marketing techniques where children are concerned, and have done for some time. Starting with commercialisation of children in obvious ways seems most immediately requiring action to me - and I think that it simply does not help dealing with family problems and problem families to have commercialisation ruling and influencing life.

What are we dealing with, and why is this a problem for family law? Tight clothing, T-shirts with explicitly sexual messages, revealing tops (and bottoms), sexually explicit lyrics from teenage singers and ensuring that children, whose minds are most prone to outside influences and celebrity ‘fame', are encouraged to think they need and must have such trappings of adulthood before they have even finished handling childhood, never mind teenage years, and this should cease because it is abusive. It stops children from growing at their own pace and forces attitudes that should not be welcomed, particularly from a children's welfare perspective. I am not advocating keeping children as children forever, because I do believe in children gradually learning about and taking responsibility - I thought that was what Gillick and the aftermath was about - I thought that was what we were trying to do when we enacted the Children Act two decades ago. I am in favour of allowing children to develop without force-feeding bodies and minds. By encouraging an expectation of false adulthood, and all that it means, we heap expectation and then heavy responsibility upon them before they are ready for it. I do not claim (how can it be proved, anyway?) that this causes pregnancy at too young an age, but really, is it any wonder that we have these issues to deal with at all?

Bombarding youngsters with sexual imagery is revolting - it robs parents of money spent on useless, nay, damaging, items that add nothing to growing children, and, much worse, it robs children of childhood - there ought to be a law against it.

Well, if some of this doesn't frighten the horses and the servants, it certainly frightens me. Our apprentice adults should be helped, not hindered - doing the latter is frankly obscene.

Penny sets the questions for Family Law journalCPD, a new way to gain CPD points by answering multiple choice questions based on the content of the journal.

She is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.