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Magazine for 13-year-old girls signs deal with condom makers

London Telegraph | March 7 2004

A magazine aimed at girls as young as 13 has been criticised as "irresponsible" for accepting a commercial deal to promote condoms to its readers.

Sugar, the best-selling magazine for teenage girls, with a circulation of almost 300,000, has agreed to devote part of its next issue to promoting the use of Durex condoms.

The move has outraged campaigners and family groups who believe that the magazine has a responsibility to discourage young girls from having underage sex.

Michele Elliott, the director of Kidscape, a child protection charity, said: "We have the highest level of teenage pregnancies in Europe so we ought to be encouraging young girls to think about how they can avoid pregnancy.

"That doesn't mean we should just be teaching girls about safe sex. We should be discouraging girls from having sex at all before they are really ready.

"Sugar magazine has a responsibility to do this but they have accepted a commercial deal by a company whose primary aim is to sell more condoms. Call me cynical but I would be very surprised if an article promoting condoms actively discouraged girls to have sex."

Sugar is aimed at girls aged between 13 and 17, with an average readership age of 14, but is also popular among pre-teens.

A 12-page editorial section sponsored by Durex will appear in the May issue of Sugar, which will be on sale from the end of the month. It is the first time Durex has secured promotion of its products within an editorial section in a magazine.

The magazine refused to reveal how much the sponsorship deal was worth but defended the decision to publish the supplement. Lysanne Currie, an editorial director at Hachette Filipacchi, the company that publishes Sugar, said last night: "There is nothing inappropriate about our partnership with a reputable and socially responsible company such as Durex."

Ms Currie claimed that the magazine worked within the guidelines set by the Teenage Magazine Arbitration Panel, and emphasised that every issue of the magazine contained the message that it is illegal for a boy to have sex with an underage girl.

"We don't believe that talking about condoms encourages girls to have sex before they are ready," she said. "We are educating girls so that when they decide to have sex they can do so safely."

The magazine found itself at the centre of a row last April when, in conjunction with Marie Stopes, the health charity, it gave away free condoms without securing the consent of parents. It has also been criticised by parents, including the musician Bob Geldof, for its sexual content.

Despite spending 63 million on trying to halt a rise in teenage pregnancies, the Government has failed. Figures released last week showed that the number of pregnancies among teenagers under 18 risen from 38,439 in 2001 to 39,286 in 2002. Campaigners seized on the statistics as further evidence that increasing sex education and providing contraceptives to teenagers is failing to halt pregnancies.
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