Minister says child beauty pageants ‘steal childhood’

Frances Fitzgerald tells Seanad such contests ‘run counter to’ values in UN Convention on Rights of the Child

Child beauty contests are a theft of childhood, Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has told the Seanad.

She said she wanted Ireland to be a “cold house for child pageants”.

Speaking in the Seanad in a debate on a motion condemning the holding of such pageants in the State, Ms Fitzgerald said “catapulting young girls and young boys into a sexuality for which they are neither physically or cognitively ready is a form of theft”.

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

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

The Minister told the Seanad the very words “child beauty pageants” left a coppery taste in the mouth.

“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 skill they have learned or ability they can prove, but on how ‘glammed up’ their parents can make them.”

Ms Fitzgerald praised hotels and venues across the State which last year refused to host a child beauty pageant run by Universal Royalty.

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, false tan, make-up and false eyelashes for children under 10. 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.”

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.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

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