France’s upper house of parliament has voted to outlaw beauty contests for girls under 16 years old under threat of prison sentences and fines in an attempt to halt the “hypersexualisation” of youngsters.

The Senat voted for the proposal on Wednesday (18SEP) after Chantal Jouanno, a former sports minister under the right—of—centre president Nicolas Sarkozy, introduced the ban as part of a bill on gender equality.

“Don’t let us allow our girls to believe from an early age that their only value is their looks,” Jouanno told senators. “Don’t let us 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” pageants was opposed by the Socialist senator Virginie Kles, who presented the gender equality bill, as well as the government’s spokesperson and women’s rights minister, Najat Vallaud—Belkacem, both of whom judged the penalties too harsh.

Under the proposed law, pageant organisers who flout the minimum age limit would face up to two years in prison and a EUR30,000 fine. Vallaud-Belkacem tabled an amendment that would force pageant organisers to apply for official permission to stage them, but this was defeated.

In a parliamentary report presented in March 2012, two months before Sarkozy was defeated by Socialist Francois Hollande, Jouanno voiced concern about the “hypersexualisation” 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.”© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013

Don’t let us allow our girls to believe from an early age that their only value is their looks.