Oceane Scharre, 10, who was elected Mini Miss France 2011, sits with Miss France 2011 Mathilde Florin. France’s Senate voted to ban beauty pageants for children under 16, in an effort to protect children — especially girls — from being sexualized too early. (AP)

France’s Senate has voted to ban beauty pageants for children under 16, in an effort to protect girls from being sexualized too early.

Anyone who enters a child into such a contest would face up to two years in prison and about $40,000 in fines. A pageant organizer lamented the severity of the measure.

The Senate approved the measure 197 to 146 overnight Tuesday, as an amendment to a law on women’s rights. The legislation must go to the lower house of Parliament for further debate and another vote.

Such beauty pageants, involving girls of all ages often heavily made up and extravagantly dressed, regularly spark public debate in France and elsewhere. While such pageants are not as common in France as in the United States, girls get the message early on here that they are sexual beings, from advertising and marketing campaigns — and even from department stores that sell lingerie for girls as young as 6.

“The foundations of equal rights are threatened by the hyper-sexualization that touches children . . . between 6 and 12 years old,” said Chantal Jouanno, a conservative lawmaker who wrote the amendment.

“At this age, you need to concentrate on acquiring knowledge,” she added. “Yet with ‘Mini Miss’ competitions and other demonstrations, we are fixing the projectors on their physical appearance. I have a hard time seeing how these competitions are in the greater interest of the child.”

Jouanno said that the amendment is primarily focused on protecting girls. “When I asked an organizer why there were no mini-boy contests, I heard him respond that boys would not lower themselves like that.”

The amendment’s language is brief but sweeping: “Organizing beauty competitions for children under 16 is banned.” It doesn’t specify whether the ban would extend to online photo competitions or pretty baby contests.

It would apply to parents or others who enter children in such contests — but also anyone “who encourages or tolerates children’s access to these competitions.”

Michel Le Parmentier, who has been organizing “Mini Miss” pageants in France since 1989, said he is disappointed that the draft law involves an overall ban. He said that he has been in discussions with legislators about regulating such pageants but was not expecting such sweeping language.

The Socialist government’s equal rights minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, suggested Wednesday that the Socialists may push for a compromise measure when the bill goes to the lower house in the coming weeks.

— Associated Press