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‘Mini-Miss’ pageant organisers face fines and prison sentences as parliament addresses ‘hypersexualisation’ of under-16s.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem

The French parliament has moved to ban children’s beauty contests in an attempt to halt what one former minister called the hyper-sexualisation of young girls.

France’s upper house of parliament, the senate, adopted the proposal as part of a wider law on gender equality after former sports minister Chantal Jouanno called for the ban on beauty pageants for children under 16. It must now be passed by the national assembly before becoming law.

“Let us not make our girls believe from an early age that their only value is their appearance,” Jouanno told the senate. “Let us not allow commercial interests to outweigh social interests. Lawmakers are not moralisers, but we have a duty to defend the superior interest of the child.”

The ban on what the French call Mini-Miss beauty pageants was opposed by the Socialist senator Virginie Klès, who sponsored the gender equality bill, as well as the government’s spokeswoman and women’s rights minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, both of whom judged the penalties too harsh.

Under the proposed law, anyone who flouts the minimum age limit for beauty pageants will face up to two years in prison and a €30,000 (£25,000) fine.

Vallaud-Belkacem tabled an amendment that would force pageant organisers to apply for official permission to stage them, but this was ruled out after Jouanno’s amendment was approved.

Afterwards, Vallaud-Belkacem suggested she might call for an amendment to control rather than ban the child beauty pageants when the bill is discussed in the lower house in the next few weeks.

In a parliamentary report drawn up in March 2012, Jouanno expressed concern about the hyper-sexualisation of young girls, including “the sexualisation of their expressions, postures or clothes that are too precocious”. Jouanno said at the time: “The phenomenon is more and more present.”

Her report, Against Hyper-Sexualisation: A New Fight for Equality, expressed concern that young girls were being disguised as “sexual candy” in a competition over appearance, beauty and seduction, which she said was “contrary to the dignity of the human being”.

The report also recommended further measures that were not included in the bill including outlawing adult clothing in child sizes, for example padded bras and high-heeled shoes, and banning the casting of models under 16 in advertising campaigns.

Jouanno’s report was prompted by international outrage over a fashion photo-shoot in French Vogue that showed 10-year-old Thylane Loubry Blondeau and two other girls posing in heavy makeup, jewellery, high-heeled shoes and tight clothes, and pouting provocatively.

The magazine feature initially failed to rouse anger in France, but sparked widespread criticism in America where the pictures were deemed inappropriate, prompting the French government to announce its inquiry.

After the senate vote, Michel Le Parmentier, who organises the Mini-Miss pageant, said his company would look at moving the contests to other European countries if France imposed a ban.

“Maybe in Belgium, very close to the border,” Le Parmentier said.

He insisted his pageants involved “no make-up, no swimsuits, no artifice” and that the girls simply paraded in princess dresses.

The bill now passes to the national assembly where it needs approval before entering the statute books.