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France Moves To Ban Kids Under 16 From Beauty Pageants

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The French Senate voted to ban beauty pageants for children under 16. The measure is part of a larger bill on women's rights.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports that lawmakers see this move as a way to protect the young from being sexualized.

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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Several documentaries about child beauty pageants in America have shocked the French in recent years. The phenomenon is largely viewed as a sordid offshoot of American culture. Psychiatrist Jean Paul Pennera, speaking in the French television documentary "Mini Miss Phenomenon," explains why the pageants are harmful.

DR. JEAN PAUL PENNERA: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: They give a very sexualized image of kids who aren't even in puberty, he says. And, in doing so, contradict the normal and harmonious development of a child.

Mini Miss Pageants, as they're called in France - with heavily made-up, dressed-up young girls - are fairly new here. If it's up to Senator Chantal Jouanno, who sponsored the amendment in the Senate, they could disappear altogether.

SENATOR CHANTAL JUANNO: (Through Translator) The problem with these pageants is they're only based on appearance and the ideas of feminine seduction. So the little girl who takes part believes that her worth is based only on how she looks.

BEARDSLEY: Jouanno's amendment is part of a broader bill on women's rights, which will now proceed to the National Assembly, the French Parliament's Lower House, for another vote. If it becomes law, it could mean a three-year prison term and $40,000 fine for anyone organizing or entering a child under the age of 16 in a pageant.

But even without American-style Mini Miss Pageants, French girls are bombarded with the message that female worth is all about beauty and sexiness. All you got to do is watch TV, open a magazine, or look at the side of a news kiosk - grownup female nudity is everywhere.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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