France's Senate has voted to ban beauty pageants for children under 16, in an effort to protect children — especially 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, according to the measure. The legislation must go to the lower house of parliament for further debate and another vote.
The Senate approved the measure 197-146 overnight, as part of a law on women's rights. It rejected, however, an amendment that would have restricted the use of models under age 16 to modeling for products or services destined for children.
Such beauty pageants, involving girls of all ages heavily made up and dressed up, regularly elicit public debate in France and elsewhere.
The amendment's language is brief but sweeping: "Organizing beauty competitions for children under 16 is banned." The amendment 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.
Its author, legislator Chantal Jouanno, stressed that it's about women's rights, noting that such contests overwhelmingly involve girls.
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 social messages and advertising and marketing campaigns — and even from department stores that sell fancy lingerie for girls as young as 6.
Some pageants make an effort to de-sexualize child beauty competitions. One recent pageant in the Paris region specifically banned makeup, swimsuits, high heels or anything inappropriate for the child's age.