Minister's anger at retailers as bras on sale for girls as young as seven
Trade and Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has hit out at retailers in Northern Ireland who are continuing to sell padded bras aimed at very young girls despite years of criticism about the sexualisation of children.
The Belfast Telegraph found yesterday that Dunnes Stores and Primark in Belfast city centre are selling padded bras to enhance the figures of girls as young as seven, despite concern from children's rights groups.
Mrs Foster, a mother of three children under 11, said she was disturbed at the reports and felt there could be a role for the Assembly to step in to stop the practice.
She said: I am disappointed that this is still happening given the outcry about the sexualisation of young children recently and I think that is the view of most politicians."
A spokeswoman for Primark said it was a "responsible retailer which takes great care to ensure that its products are both attractive and appropriate for all age groups".
Primark said seamfree crop tops are available in Northern Ireland from aged seven upwards and that its items targeted at girls who are 140cm tall or aged around nine are not padded.
However, the Belfast Telegraph's receipt for 30AA and 28A Primark bras marked 'My First Bra' - found on a stand marked for seven to 13-year-olds - said 'Pad Bra'.
Primark later said: ""The point of sale had incorrect signage above it and should not have been labelled 7-13 years old. This signage has now been removed.
"The merchandise was mistakenly labelled on the receipt. Primark is conducting a full investigation."
Meanwhile, a sequined padded bra set, marked for a 28 to 30-inch chest, was available in Dunnes in Belfast city centre yesterday in 'aqua' and 'baby pink'.
Dunnes in the Republic was also found to be selling bra-and-knicker sets for three to four-year-olds and for five to six-year-olds.
The company did not respond to a request for a comment.
The British Retail Consortium introduced a code of good practice for retailers selling children's clothes but neither Dunnes Stores or Primark are signatories. Mrs Foster said that, as a mother, she was very concerned.
"We all want our children to have as long a childhood for as long as they can," she added.
Children's campaigners and feminist activists also said there is too much pressure on children to be adult before their time.
Lynda Wilson, director of Barnardo's NI said: "There is already so much pressure on children to grow up too quickly these days and padded bras for them is a part of that. Children should be allowed to grow up in their own time, as childhood is precious."
Kellie Turtle from the Belfast Feminist Network said she was very disappointed to learn padded bras for children were still on sale.
"Selling products like these to pre-teens is about conditioning young girls into the stereotyped roles society forces them into," she said.
Jane Bevis from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said the issue of inappropriate underwear is something parents and grandparents are very concerned about.
Doctor Linda Papadopoulos, the author of the former Government's review into the Sexualisation of Young People, supports the human rights organisation OBJECT, that challenges the objectification of women by the sex industry.
She said: "As a psychologist and a mother I am very aware of the dangerous effect of a culture saturated by sexualised and one dimensional representations of women and girls."