Independent Group Motion: Condemning the Holding of Child Beauty Pageants in Ireland

Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Link to full debate
I move:

“That Seanad Éireann –
-recognises that childhood, as a time-specific and unique period in a person’s development, is a distinct space from adulthood;
-appreciates the difficulties and pressures faced by children and parents as the distinct space between childhood and adulthood becomes increasingly blurred through media, advertising and popular culture;
-believes that every effort must be made to protect children and childhood against sexualisation and undue gender stereotyping;
-echoes the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs endorsement of Responsible Retailing: Retail Ireland Childrenswear Guidelines (June 2012) and her statement that ‘the preparation of these guidelines is yet another example of how working together we can, as a State and society, help to foster a culture where childhood is preserved and children are protected’;
-commends An Coimisiun Le Rinci Gaelacha, The Irish Dancing Commission, for introducing additional rules prohibiting the use of make-up including false eyelashes, tinted moisturiser, or any artificial tanning products for the face for all dancers aged 10 years and under. (Effective 1 March 2014.);
-believes that the participation, for financial gain, in a competition by minors, judged on attractiveness and physical attributes rather than discernible skill is contrary to the protection of children and preservation of childhood and therefore condemns child beauty pageants in Ireland;
-further holds that child beauty pageants run contrary to the values set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child;
-cognisant of the current economic climate, greatly appreciates the significant decision by each of the hotels approached by Universal Royalty back in September 2013 to decline hosting a child beauty pageant on their premises and welcomes the support of the Irish Hotels Federation in opposing child beauty pageants in Ireland;
-calls on all stakeholders to be resolute in opposing child beauty pageants in Ireland;
-calls on all Senators to formally endorse the appeal made by Senator Jillian van Turnhout in Seanad Éireann on 19 September 2013 to send a clear message that child beauty pageants have no place in Ireland; and
-seeks political consensus in its opposition to child beauty pageants across both Houses of the Oireachtas and invites Dáil Éireann to pass a similar Motion.”.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I thank her in advance for her support. I also thank my Independent Group colleagues, Senators Fiach MacConghail, Mary Ann O’Brien, Marie-Louise O’Donnell and Katherine Zappone for allowing our time to be used for this debate. In particular, I thank Senator O’Donnell who will be seconding the motion. I thank each and every Senator for their unanimous support of the motion. It is wonderful, heartening and exciting to see Seanad Éireann united across political divides and ideological differences and to hear Members speak out for children and protecting the sanctity of childhood.

I have made my opposition to the holding of child beauty pageants in Ireland well known since the ultimately futile efforts by Universal Royalty to secure a hotel venue for a child pageant in September 2013. The campaign started from the floor of this House. Regrettably, albeit on a much smaller than anticipated scale, the event did go ahead in a beer garden in Castleblayney, County Monaghan, and Universal Royalty pageant organiser, Annette Hill, has reportedly confirmed her intention to host at least one more child beauty pageant in Ireland in the near future. This is why, with the support of my group, I have tabled the motion condemning the holding of child beauty pageants in Ireland.

We are old enough for long enough. I firmly believe 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 by minors who are judged on attractiveness and physical attributes rather than any sort of discernible skill is seriously problematic and contrary to protecting childhood. I am not alone in the strength of my conviction in opposing child beauty pageants taking place here. I have already referred to the support from the House. In particular, I commend the transition year students in Mount Mercy College in Cork. They developed a transition year project, “Don’t Let the Wrecking Ball Wreck You”, a clever reference to Miley Cyrus’s hyper-sexual music video and the negative impact of an increasingly sexualised pop culture on our young people. As part of the project they launched a petition on to help stop child beauty pageants being held in Cork. The students contacted me in the early stages of the project development and I was most impressed by their initiative, commitment and drive.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, ISPCC, has also spoken out against child beauty pageants and communicated publically the harm it believes such pageants can inflict on the self-esteem and self-image of children. Children at Risk in Ireland, CARI, has also come out in support of the cause and I agree fully with them.

Negative body image, especially but not exclusively affecting women, starts early. I presume it starts as early as children and teens become cognisant of the relentless images of perfection we are all bombarded with through the media, advertising and popular culture and it can be very damaging. Negative body image can cripple people’s confidence and prevent them from participating in sports and other activities with health benefits. There are numerous health risks associated with crash and fad diets and, at the extreme end of the spectrum, negative body image is linked to self-harm, anorexia, bulimia, depression, and anxiety. It is becoming a major problem throughout the world, so much so that in 2009 the Australian Government set up a national advisory body on body image to recommend initiatives to improve the body image of Australians. In Israel, where the leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 24 years is anorexia, Photoshop laws have been introduced whereby any Photoshopped image must have a clear warning covering 7% of the surface area of the photo. The law there also requires that all models must have a body mass index of 18.5. In France, specialists involved in the research behind the parliamentary report, Against Hyper-Sexualisation: a New Fight for Equality, which is the report that prompted the French Senate to introduce a ban on child beauty pageants, concluded that precocious sexualisation affected mostly girls and caused psychological damage that is irreversible in 80% of cases.

I have had the displeasure of watching several televised child beauty pageants from the USA in the lead-up to this debate. I heard some frankly grotesque statements from so-called pageant moms. One said:
When I see Ronnie up on stage I can’t believe she is only two. She did her sassy walk and really shook it. She also did her blow kisses.

Her mother went on to translate for us that “blow kisses” means “Hey judges, come get it, baby.”

She is two. I need not elaborate on why this is inappropriate behaviour for a two year old child. It became clear to me that the best personality prize is in fact the default prize for the children who did not win in the real categories of beauty, casual wear and swim wear. If it is obvious to me then it is obvious to everyone involved in pageantry, including the children. The suggestion is that those with the best personalities are the losers. This is not acceptable and it does not bode well for the development of well-rounded, grounded and confident children with strong internal value systems.

I emphasised the point earlier about beauty pageants not involving any discernible skill in an effort to distinguish child beauty pageants from Irish dancing, which was frequently drawn as a comparison when I was discussing the pageants in September last year. I did not know much about the Irish dancing world. My gut said that it was an unfair comparison since Irish dancing is rather technical and timing, rhythm and footwork are of the utmost importance. It takes years of practice and discipline to master these skills. However, as I have acknowledged in the motion, I am aware of the difficulties and pressures faced by children and parents trying to navigate the world and make choices in the face of an increasingly sexualised and adult world. I tried to find out whether anything could be done to protect children from this in Irish dancing. I was pleased to learn from An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha, the Irish Dancing Commission, that as of 1 March 2014, it has introduced new rules prohibiting the use of make-up, including false eye lashes, tinted moisturiser or any artificial tanning products for the face, for all dancers under ten years of age. Ten years of age seemed a low threshold to me initially but a representative from the commission explained that it would be virtually impossible to impose the rule on dancers worldwide beyond the age of ten years because they are competing in world championships, but I will continue to urge them to go further.

Also, the new rule is in addition to an existing rule that has been in place for many years which prohibits make-up for any dancer in the first two dancing grades, the Bungrad and Tusgrad and their equivalent, up to and including the 12-year age group worldwide. Let me give another example. The British Dance Council has introduced a strict requirement that costumes must be of one colour and without glitz so we can see that there have been moves in this direction.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has rightly stressed the importance of a right to play for children. A few years ago the Children’s Rights Alliance consulted children before going to the UNCRC and the children put their right to play as the number one recommendation and priority to be raised with the UN committee.
It is clear to that this is an issue on which society is eager to stand united. Last September when I spoke against the pageants I received more telephone calls, emails and notes of support from the public than I have for any other issue that I have worked on. The issue is not about us being a nanny State; it is about collective social responsibility towards children.

Some people have asked whether I would consider bringing legislation but that would be a sledge hammer approach. The unanimous support that we got in the House is a strong call to action that we, as a society, have a responsibility. For me, tonight is a call to action not only to my colleagues here as I hope Dáil Éireann will pass a similar motion. It is a call to action for civil society organisations, parents, young people and society at large. We need to send a clear and unified message that there is no place in Ireland for child beauty pageants.

Order of Business, 6 June 2012

I agree with Senator Bacik’s proposal for a debate on the future of the Seanad in light of the announcement concerning the constitutional convention.

I also send my best wishes to those sitting the junior and leaving certificate examinations. I would not swap places with them but I wish them the very best, having dropped my nephew to his first exam today.

I warmly welcome the announcement by the EU for funding for the missing children hotline on Missing Children’s Day. This House played a strong role on that matter by having an all-party, all-group motion seeking the hotline to be up and running. This funding has now been announced by the EU but the ISPCC, which has been awarded the hotline and the funding, will need additional funding from the Government. I therefore repeat my call of 22 May, asking the Leader to invite the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to the House to discuss her Department’s plans to provide the necessary funding and support for Ireland’s missing children’s hotline, so we can have it operational in the coming months.

We should also discuss with the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, how her Department and the Government can support the exceptional work done by the ISPCC through its Childline service. I also ask the Leader to seek from the Minister a date for the publication of the report into child deaths. She should give a commitment to attend the House shortly after it is published so that we can discuss it with her.

I commend the joint policing operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI into organised prostitution, brothel keeping and money laundering. On Tuesday last, 29 May, searches were carried out at over 120 houses, apartments and flats on both sides of the Border under Operation Quest, which led to a number of arrests. I particularly welcome the fact that three suspected victims of human trafficking were rescued during the course of these searches. I welcome the Garda Síochána’s recognition of the link between prostitution, organised crime and money laundering, as well as the additional link between prostitution and human trafficking, which this case demonstrates. I commend the gardaí for their approach.

The Minister for Justice and Equality has advised us that he will shortly publish his public consultation document. I am disappointed, however, that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has banned a radio advertisement campaign by “Turn off the Red Light”, which seeks to highlight abuses in the Irish sex trade. That is very disappointing.

Order of Business, 22 May 2012

Yesterday the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children published the Childline annual statistics for 2011. The importance of listening to children cannot be overstated and in the past 23 years Childline has been providing this invaluable service for children. It is a service which is trusted and recognised by young people. In 2011, for example, it received more than 800,000 calls, including 54,000 relating to some level of emotional abuse and 11,000 relating to bullying. Childline not only listens to and supports young people but it also saves lives. Yesterday I heard a prime example of this from the ISPCC spokesperson who relayed the story of a teenage girl who had taken an overdose, contacted Childline and shared with the operator her feelings of worthlessness and how everyone was right that she was a waste of space. During the 45 minute call she eventually told the Childline operator where she lived and an ambulance was sent to take her to hospital and save her life. I shudder to think what would have happened if her telephone call was one of the 800 telephone calls that go unanswered each day because of insufficient funding and resources. Childline in the United Kingdom, which is run by the NSPCC, receives £11 million for its continued development.

The Department of Education in Northern Ireland makes contributions to Childline Northern Ireland. In Ireland Childline operates without Government funding or support. In fact, it raises €4 million thanks to the generosity of the public and Eircom. The lack of funding seriously undermines the capacity of the service to meet the needs of children. Some 38% of calls go unanswered. These are the voices of 800 vulnerable children and young people which are not heard each day.

Will the Leader invite the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to the House to discuss how the Department and the Government can better support the exceptional work being done by Childline to ensure all children are heard and valued?

Senator van Turnhout Regrets No Commencement Date for 116 000 Missing Children Hotline

Press Release
12/10/2011: For Immediate Release.

Senator van Turnhout Regrets no Commencement Date for 116 000 Missing Children Hotline

Following a Seanad motion initiated by Senator Jillian van Turnhout, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, today announced a commitment from her Department and the Department of Justice and Equality to support the establishment of the long awaited 116 000 Missing Children Hotline. The motion, which received support from all parties and groups within the Seanad, pressed the Government for clarification as to why the Irish branch of the 116 000 Hotline had not yet been made operational.

In response to the Minister’s announcement, Senator van Turnhout said: “While I welcome Minister Fitzgerald’s expression of a commitment to the 116 000 Hotline in 2012, I must express my disappointment that the announcement was not that the Hotline would be established without delay. I truly believe this service is one of vital importance, not only in terms of raising the alarm about missing children but also as a support to the families of missing children, and indeed to missing children themselves. Consequently this further delay must be met with some regret.” Despite the cross party support for the motion, it has taken four years of campaigning to arrive at this announcement.

“While I am saddened that the announcement did not go further, I am encouraged that we in the Seanad could help bring attention to this issue, and to the tireless campaigning done by the ISPCC and other NGOs that has led to this announcement,” Senator van Turnhout said today. “However,” the Senator continue, “I feel it is essential that ComReg assigns a suitable service provider as soon as possible. Furthermore, I would strongly encourage ComReg to follow the lead of 13 of the 16 EU Member States in which the service is operated by members of Missing Children Europe. Who, in conjunction with Daphne, have developed the Minimum Quality Standard Framework within “A Practical Guide for Hotline Providers” to ensure that Missing Children Hotlines throughout Europe are run professionally, efficiently, and effectively and meet European standards of best practice for service users.” The Senator concluded by calling on the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to engage effectively and regularly with which ever service provider is assigned the Missing Children Hotline number and to ensure that the service is operating at its full potential without further delay.”

The 116 000 Missing Children Hotline is currently operational in 16 European Union Member States, and aims to provide assistance to families of missing children, particularly those facing a language barrier when dealing with local authorities, by providing a single point of contact whether at home or abroad.

For more information, please contact:
Senator Jillian van Turnhout Leader of the Independent Group (Taoiseach Nominees)
Phone: 01-6183375

Notes to editor:
• The motion was presented to the Seanad on 12/10/2011.
• On the 15th of February 2007, the European Commission reserved the 116 000 phone number in all EU member states as a common number for emergency action whenever a child goes missing.
• The hotline is currently operational in 16 EU Member States: Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom.
• In the Seanad today Senator van Turnhout cited the case of a group of Belgian children who were taken and hidden by their father in very poor and dangerous conditions. Following a request from the Belgian and Portuguese 116000 Missing Children Hotlines, the Portuguese evening news broadcast an appeal for information which concluded by showing 116 000 Missing Children Hotline number on screen. Minutes after the broadcast, the case was resolved.
• General information on the 116 000 Missing Children Hotline can be found at: