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'Difficult' to ban sex imagery in products for children

29 January 10 12:40 GMT

Any crackdown on sexual imagery on clothes and toys aimed at children would be "fraught with difficulties", a report for MSPs has found.

The Equal Opportunities Committee commissioned a study after hearing concerns that inappropriate merchandise targeted at under 16s may cause harm.

Researchers looked at goods on offer in high street stores and questioned youngsters and parents.

They said "relatively few" sexualised products were aimed at children.

The study was carried out by researchers from the Institute of Education at London University, Glasgow Caledonian University and the Open University.

MSPs commissioned it after hearing claims about the availability of items like high-heel slip-on shoes for babies, T-shirts and underwear products for girls with sexual slogans printed on them.

The report said: "The attempt to control the production and distribution of sexualised goods, or at least control children's access to them, is likely to be fraught with difficulties, not least in terms of how we define what is to be regulated in the first place.

"This is not to suggest that it should not be attempted, although it is to imply that such a process might well have costs and counter productive consequences, as well as benefits."

The report also said it may be valuable to discuss the issues around sexual imagery and products aimed at children in schools.

Researchers visited retailers, including stores at the Fort Shopping Centre in Glasgow, to analysis the products on offer and customers' reactions to them.

Many of the stores surveyed, such as Tesco, Littlewoods, Debenhams, D2 Jeans and Marks and Spencer, did not sell any goods with sexual imagery aimed at children.

"This is not to suggest that imagery in consumer culture is not widespread or that children do not consume products surrounded by such imagery, " the report said.

"What it does indicate is that relatively few sexualised products are specifically aimed at children."

Sexual connotations

The study also concluded that both parents and children were wary of the prospect of any moves to put controls on the goods available in place.

It said: "The young people were keen to assert that they were competent in understanding and interpreting the sexual connotations of particular products.

"They strongly rejected the idea that regulation was necessary in order to protect them and argued that they should have the right to make their own decisions and mistakes."

Committee convener Margaret Mitchell MSP: "The committee welcomes this body of work as an important contribution to the complex debate and area of public concern.

"This is useful research which considers the prevalence of sexualised goods and explores the attitudes of parents and children towards them."

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