Mon, May 26, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Child beauty show blasted for `sexy body' category

AP , BANGKOK

Child rights activists have condemned plans for a children's beauty contest that features a "sexy body" category and a swimsuit parade for competitors as young as 3 years old.

But organizers as well as parents who have entered their kids maintain the pageant -- scheduled for next Sunday -- will be innocent family fun.

Although beauty pageants for all ages are extremely popular in Thailand, critics say this one goes too far and runs against the country's attempts to wipe out its reputation as a popular stop for pedophiles and a significant source, destination and transit place in the international trafficking of children for sexual purposes.

Thailand's Department of Public Welfare estimates there are 12,000-18,000 child prostitutes in this Southeast Asian nation, although private voluntary groups say the number is in the hundreds of thousands.

Activists are not directly linking this contest to child abuse but they do fear that promoting sexual concepts in a children's event will only help legitimize prurient interest in kids.

"The sexualized nature of this contest distinguishes it from simple contests where children participate to demonstrate their artistic or intellectual talents," said Carmen Madrinan of an international nongovernment group, End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes.

"This is an example of how the adult sexual interest in children is legitimized and has gradually been normalized in society," she said.

However, pageant manager Songwut Khumrak denies the contest -- open to boys and girls between 3 and 12 years of age -- has a sexual theme. He says the controversy has not stopped parents entering more than 60 children.

Songwut decided to include the swimsuit category because it fitted well with a summer theme. As to the offending "sexy body" phrase, he said he used it only because "it sounded fun."

"All we want to do is to see which boy or girl looks cute in swimwear. Why can't a kid be sexy in a cute way? It's the same thing," said Songwut, who has managed dozens of pageants in the past, including adult ones.

But critics say describing children as "sexy" is wrong.

"There's no reason why children need to think about sexiness or try to be [sexy]. It's ridiculous. There're many other ways to boost their self-confidence," said Wallop Tungkananurak, a senator in Thailand's Parliament and child's rights activist, said.

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