Children's beauty contests could soon be a thing of the past in France after senators voted to outlaw such competitions and send parents to jail for up to two years if they try to enter their children in "Mini-Miss" pageants.

Parents or anyone else trying to enter children under 16 years of age into a beauty contest would also face up to 30,000 ($48,300) in fines.

The measure, part of proposed legislation on women's rights, was backed by a 196 to 146 majority, and now goes to the lower house National Assembly for further debate.

"Let us not make our girls believe from a very young age that their worth is only judged by their appearance," said Chantal Jouanno, a senator and former Sports Minister, who was responsible for the proposal.

The measure was prompted by controversy over a Vogue magazine article featuring provocative images of a 10-year-old French girl in December 2010.

The girl, Thylane Loubry Blondeau, and two others were photographed with heavy makeup and wearing tight dresses, high heels and expensive jewellery.

Vogue defended the pictures, saying it merely portrayed a common fantasy among young girls: to dress like their mother.

The article did not initially rouse anger in France, but was met with outrage in America and later prompted the French Government to open an inquiry.

Jouanno was commissioned to write a report on the issue. Her text, titled Against Hyper-Sexualisation: A New Fight For Equality, called for a ban on child-size adult clothing, such as padded bras and high-heels, as well as the ban on beauty competitions for under-16s.

When the report came out last year, she said young girls were being disguised as "sexual candy" in beauty pageants, which she said was a step backwards in the battle for women's equality.

Jouanno said that while the sexualisation of children was not as common in France as in some other countries, it was increasing rapidly and becoming acceptable because of what she described as the normalisation of pornography.

Michel Le Parmentier, who has been organising "Mini-Miss" pageants in France since 1989, said he was disappointed that the draft law involved an overall ban. Telegraph Group Ltd

- Daily Telegraph UK

By Rory Mulholland