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Retailers ban 'sexy' underwear for children under 12

Thongs, black underwear and padded bras have been banned for sale to under-12s by high street retailers after a backlash against the sexualisation of children.

Marks & Spencer, Next, Tesco and other chains have agreed to guidelines that bar them from stocking clothes that "sexualise or unduly gender stereotype" children under 12.

The guidelines are published by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) today as the Government releases a review into the commercialisation and sexualisation of children, which is expected to recommend several steps to reverse a trend considered by many parents to be damaging and weird.

David Cameron ordered the review by Reg Bailey, chief executive of the Mothers' Union, following a series of examples of leading retailers using sexual or inappropriate branding on children's products.

In two speeches, in 2006 and last year, Mr Cameron criticised the sale of a range of padded bras and sexy knickers for the under-10s by Bhs (quickly withdrawn), a "Lolita" bed aimed at six-year-olds and T-shirts for primary age children that carried the Playboy logo. He described Bhs's padded bras and sexy knickers as "harmful and creepy".

The guidelines rule out slogans and imagery with "sexually suggestive, demeaning, derogative or political material, or phrasing that could be interpreted as such."

Colour ranges and cut must be "age appropriate", they stipulate, forbidding first bras being black or having padding or under-wiring.

The eight-page document says: "Knickers and pants must provide modesty; thongs are not appropriate for children."

It advises marketing directors: "Photography should feature children in natural poses in a childlike environment, appropriate to the age range concerned. When make-up is used, it should be as natural as possible."

Argos, Debenhams, George at Asda, John Lewis, M&S, Next, Peacocks, Sainsbury's and Tesco have signed up to the voluntary initiative. Primark – found in an investigation by Channel 4 to carry the most sexualised of children's products – and Sir Philip Green's Bhs and Topshop chains, have not, because they are not members of the BRC.

Retailers hope that, by announcing these moves on the day of the launch of a government review into children's sexualisation, they will pre-empt any criticism.