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France's Senate has voted to ban beauty pageants for children under 16 in an effort to protect girls from being sexualized too early.
Anyone who enters a child into such a contest would face up to two years in prison and 30,000 euros in fines. A pageant organizer lamented that the move was so severe.
The Senate approved the measure 197-146 overnight, as an amendment to a law on women's rights. The legislation must go to the lower house of parliament for further debate and another vote.
Such beauty pageants, involving girls of all ages often heavily made up and dressed up, regularly elicit public debate in France and elsewhere. While such pageants are not as common in France as in the United States, girls get the message early on here that they are sexual beings, from advertising and marketing campaigns — and even from department stores that sell lingerie for girls as young as 6.
"The foundations of equal rights are threatened by the hyper-sexualization that touches children ... between 6 and 12 years old," said conservative lawmaker Chantal Jouanno, who authored the amendment.
"At this age, you need to concentrate on acquiring knowledge. Yet with mini-Miss competitions and other demonstrations, we are fixing the projectors on their physical appearance. I have a hard time seeing how these competitions are in the greater interest of the child."
She noted the amendment is primarily focused on protecting girls. "When I asked an organizer why there were no mini-boy contests, I heard him respond that boys would not lower themselves like that."
The amendment's language is brief but sweeping: "Organizing beauty competitions for children under 16 is banned." It doesn't specify what kind of competitions would be covered, including whether it would extend to online photo competitions or pretty baby contests.
It would apply to parents or others who enter children in such contests — but also anyone "who encourages or tolerates children's access to these competitions."
The amendment says it's aimed at protecting children from danger and being prematurely forced into roles of seduction that harm their development.
Michel Le Parmentier, who says he has been organizing "mini-Miss" pageants in France since 1989, said he's disappointed that the draft law involves an overall ban. He said that he has been in discussions with legislators about regulating such pageants but wasn't expecting such sweeping language.
The senators debated whether to come up with a softer measure limiting such pageants, but in the end decided on an overall ban.
The Socialist government's equal rights minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, suggested Wednesday that the Socialists may push for a compromise measure when the bill goes to the lower house of Parliament in the coming weeks.
Some pageants make an effort to de-sexualize the competitions. One recent pageant in the Paris region specifically banned makeup, swimsuits, high heels or anything inappropriate for the child's age.
In the same debate, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have restricted the use of models under age 16 to modeling for products or services destined for children.