Ireland will be a ‘cold house for child beauty pageants’ Minister warns

Senators table motion to ban contests as organisers aim to hold more competitions

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has said she wants Ireland to be a "cold house for child pageants".

Ms Fitzgerald said the very words “child beauty pageants” left a “coppery taste in the mouth.”

She said “it is totally wrong to promote participation for financial gain in a contest where little children are judged and turned into winners or losers based, not on any skill they have learned or ability they can prove, but on how ‘glammed up’ their parents can make them”.

Speaking in the Seanad in a debate on a motion condemning the holding of child beauty pageants in Ireland, the Minister said “catapulting young girls and young boys into a sexuality for which they are neither physically nor cognitively ready, is a form of theft”.

She said it was the “theft of childhood and for the theft of childhood, no form or restorative justice exists”.

This kind of pageantry “runs counter to the values set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”.

She praised hotels and venues across the State which last year refused to host a child beauty pageant run by Universal Royalty, despite the great financial pressure they were under.

She said the venues "in the interests of children, turned down the opportunity to make money. They have to be congratulated for that as does the Irish Hotels Federation for opposing child beauty pageants in Ireland."

Ms Fitzgerald said some things were not the same for adults and children. The “never have been, never will”. They included clothes with suggestive slogans, overtly sexual cuts and styles and unreal or unbalanced portrayals or an ‘ideal’ body image.

She had repeatedly protested against sexually provocative slogans or designs on clothing for five and six-year-olds and over time manufacturers “came out of the dark side and began to recognise the damage such designs were doing”.

Retail Ireland had since responded to her call and created guidelines on the responsible retailing of childrenswear.

Introducing the unanimously supported motion, Independent Senator Jillian van Turnhout said Universal Royalty planned to hold at least one more such pageant in Ireland and this was why she had tabled the motion condemning the holding of child beauty pageants in Ireland.

She believed “that childhood is a time specific and unique period in a person’s development and that participation for financial gain by others in a competition for minors, judged on attractiveness and physical attributes, rather than any sort of discernible skill is hugely problematic and contrary to protecting childhood”.

She welcomed the move by the Irish Dancing Commission to ban wigs, make-up and false eyelashes for children under 10.

Ms Van Turnhout pointed to the opposition of children’s agency the ISPCC to child beauty pageants and the “harm such pageants can have on the self-esteem and self-image in children”.

Negative body image, not exclusively but particularly affecting women, starts early, she said. It could cripple people’s confidence and prevent them from participating in sports and other activities with health benefits. And it was linked to self-harm, anorexia, bulimia, depression and anxiety and had become a global problem.

She said that in Israel the leading cause of death for 15-24-year-olds was anorexia and regulations were introduced on photoshopped images that they must have a clear warning and all models must have a body mass index of 18.5.

The French Senate banned child beauty pageants and a parliamentary report against hypersexualisation of children, concluded that the "precocious sexualisation, affected mostly girls and caused psychological damage that is irreversible in 80 per cent of cases".

Independent Senator Marie Louise O’Donnell said child beauty pageants should be banned. She said “sex is the greatest industry in the world, more lucrative than oil. It is available to everybody at any time, any place and it is becoming ageless. It is now transformed from a private and profound adult mystery to a product that is available on shelves like mouthwash or deodorant.”

“Adult language is used by children. Adult profanity is used by children. Filthy words are used by children and one can hear them comfortably and consistently and profusely from the mouths of six-year-olds.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Averil Power described the current Irish dancing scene as "quite bizarre" with young girls dressed in "short costumes with fake tan and eyelashes and huge wigs. To me it actually took away from what's beautiful in Irish dancing, which is watching their footwork."

She welcomed the ban and said it would be really bad to head down the road of pageants which judged children based on their looks.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times