A child protection activist is calling to ban children from sitting on the laps of shopping mall Santas during the holiday season.
What started as a debate on social media has turned into a serious demand for a change in policy, and Australian activist Hetty Johnston is speaking out about why such a change is needed in her country.
“Shopping centres have duty of care to protect children on premises,” Johnston said. “We teach kids it’s ok to say no if they don’t feel safe. This means not having to sit on anyone’s lap, including family members, if they don’t want to.”
Johnston and other mothers are calling for what they say are simple changes to protocol in regard to taking Christmas photos with Santa.
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“What we would like to see is shopping centre owners updating their child protection policies,” Johnston said. “The directive would be for children to stand beside Santa, unless parents or children request to sit on his knee. Shopping centres have duty of care to protect children on premises.”
Mark Overell, who has been portraying Santa for over two decades and serves as a trainer for an Australian company that provides Santas to various shopping centers, is confident that the training and “stringent background checks” done on potential Santas are efficient enough to prevent any issues and ease concern.
“I understand where the fear is coming from but the idea that Santa should be lumped in with everyone else is extreme,” Overell said. “Our Santas are trained to do everything by the book. The hands with white gloves are only allowed on the children’s shoulder or around the tummy, nowhere else. We are very proud of how we have conducted ourselves over the years and have had very few complaints.”
A local mother expressed her concern to the Courier Mail, saying she understands the fear that has prompted the call for change.
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“I wouldn’t force her to be held by a random stranger so Santa is no different to me," Jenna McCarthy said. "I can understand the fear. We hype up Christmas so much and we give kids the idea that Santa isn’t a stranger. What if they come across someone outside the shopping centre dressed as a Santa? It’s not a big deal to make a small change with kids just sitting beside Santa or standing beside him.”
The debate that caused Johnston and her Bravehearts organization to speak out is one that resonates worldwide, and not everyone believes that changing a longstanding holiday tradition is a good idea.
“While I recognize the fine work that Bravehearts does, this is another symptom of our hyper-vigilant, risk adverse society,” commentator David Chalke said. “Surely it’s better to teach children to recognise and report inappropriate behaviour if it occurs than to issue a needlessly draconian blanket ban on any human contact — just in case.”
Do you think children should be banned from sitting on Santa’s lap?