Judging children under the age of 16 on their physical appearance in so-called “beauty contests” will become a criminal offence in France, the French Senate ruled on Tuesday night.
The new law forms part of the new “equality bill” presented to the French Senate on Monday by France's Minister for Women's Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, which also included legislation to tackle unequal pay, domestic violence and to encourage fathers to take parental leave.
Beauty pageants have a proud tradition in France but they are not to everyone's liking, especially these involving young teenage girls, known as "mini miss" competitions.
In the Senate on Tuesday centrist Senator Chantal Jouanno, author of a report "Against Hyper-Sexualisation: A New Fight For Equality" proposed an ammendment to the bill, banning the underage contests, which was backed by 196 senators, with 146 voting against it.
The sexual equality law will return to the lower house National Assembly for a second reading in November where deputees will have the final say on the so-called "Mini Miss" contests.
The Senate agreed to adopt tough sanctions to anyone flouting the law.
Under the new law, organizers of pageants under the age of 16 may now face up to two years in prison if they fail to comply with the ban and a fine of up to €30,000 ($40,000).
“Let's not let our daughters think from such a young age that they will be judged according to their appearance. Let's not let commercial interest impact on social interest,” Jouanno told the Senate.
But not all Senators were in favour of the law, including Virginie Klès from the Socialist party who thought the punishments were too harsh.
However, Jouanno's proposed amendment for better regulation of child models was rejected.
The organiser of France's annual "Mini-Miss" pageant, Michel Le Parmentier, has protested the amendment, saying that regulations, rather than a ban, would have been a better solution.
Le Parmentier has reportedly threatened to take the pageant into Belgium.
CLICK HERE to read Le Parmentier's defence of beauty contests: "The US is to blame," he says.
("Hyper-sexualisation? Judge for yourselves.)
Law prompted by Vogue cover picture
The measure was prompted by controversy over a Vogue magazine photographic shoot featuring provocative images of a 10-year-old French girl in December 2010.
The girl, Thylane Loubry Blondeau, and two others were photographed with heavy make up and wearing tight dresses, high heels and expensive jewellery.
Vogue defended the pictures, saying it merely portrayed a common fantasy among young girls -- to dress like their mother.
Blondeau's mother, actress turned designer Veronika Loubry, sparked more outrage by writing in a blog that her "daughter isn't naked: let's not blow this thing out of proportion."
The Vogue photographs created controversy not only in France but also overseas, where they were widely deemed to be inappropriate.
Those who agree with Jouanno's fears over "hyper-sexualisation" of young girls may not have been surprised by the recent story of three teen call girls in Cannes, who when arrested told police they had got into prostitution simply for "sex, money and fun".
Tragedy and scandal
Beauty contests in France have been hit by tragedy and controversy in recent months.
Beauty queen Allison Benitez and her mother Marie-Josée disappeared from the south west city of Perpignan just days before she was due to participate in a rehearsal for the Miss Roussillon competition.
Earlier this month, investigators confirmed that they were now treating their disappearance as a murder inquiry (see photo above) after evidence emerged linking Allison's father to the investigation. Francisco Benitez, who initially claimed the pair had left the family home permanently, was found hanged on August 5th.
In August, the Miss Rousillon contest was then hit by scandal when the newly-crowned beauty queen (below) was “dethroned” after posing for provocative semi-naked photographs – a violation of the rules, according to Miss France chiefs.
Do you agree with the move to ban child beauty contests? Let us know in the comments section below.