Almost 17 years after the shocking rape and murder of Jon Benet Ramsey placed the institution of child beauty pageants under scrutiny in the U.S., the French have come closer to banning such events in their country. On Tuesday evening, the Senate in Paris passed a bill, by a vote of 196 to 146, to prohibit prepubescent beauty contests, citing that they encourage the "hyper-sexualization" of children. The bill remains subject to approval by the National Assembly and the president before it becomes law.

Under the proposed legislation, organizers of such pageants would face prison sentences of up to two years and a fine of 30,000 euros (about $40,000). Parents who enter their kids in the so-called “mini-miss” pageants would also be sent to jail for two years and face similar fines.

Parliament heard the findings of a report called “Against Hyper-Sexualization: A New Fight for Equality,” which advocated for not only a ban on child beauty pageants, but also the prohibition of adult-type of clothing marketed to children, including padded bras and high-heeled shoes. "Let us not make our girls believe from a very young age that their worth is only judged by their appearance," said lead author of the report, senator and former Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno, who submitted the amendment on beauty contests as part of a comprehensive package on women's rights.

The Daily Telegraph reported that Jouanno accused beauty pageant promoters of marketing young girls as "sexual candy” and that the sexuality of children amounted to the "normalization” of pornography.

Dr. Anita Raj, a Professor in the Division of Global Public Health, at the University of California at San Diego, told International Business Times that there is no evidence that child beauty pageants result in greater sexual abuse of girls, and certainly, the way girls may look or act in pageants does not incite sexual violence.

“However, the fact that the pageants are for girls and not boys does perpetuate an ideology that girls' value is based on their looks where boys' value is based on their accomplishments,” Raj added. “For girls or women, this is not  likely to encourage success based on one's achievements.” 

According to a report from the BBC, the whole subject of child beauty pageants was triggered by photographs published in December 2010 by fashion magazine Vogue depicting young girls in “sexy poses,” while wearing heavy makeup, tight dresses, high heels and jewelry. In response to criticism over the photo shoot from both the United States and France, Vogue defended itself by claiming that the series depicted the fantasies of young girls seeking to dress and look like their mothers. The principal girl model’s mother, a designer and former actress named Veronika Loubry, also defended the Vogue images by writing on her blog: "Let's not blow this thing out of proportion."

France24 reported that the founder of the Mini-Miss pageant in Paris, Michel Le Parmentier, has already criticized the proposed law and threatened to move his pageant across the border to Belgium, where he could still attract French contestants.