French lawmakers have voted to ban beauty pageants for children under the age of 16 - and parents who push their children to compete may be sentenced to jail.

The French Senate voted 197-146 in favour of the ban, as part of an amendment to a law on women's rights, over fears that child pageants promote the "hyper sexualisation" of minors.

The legislation will now go to France's lower house, the National Assembly, for further debate and another vote before it becomes official.

Under the new proposed new laws, anyone who enters a child under the age of 16 in a pageant could face up to two years in jail and a €40,000 fine (£25,000). It also applies to anyone "who encourages or tolerates children's access to these competitions".

Centrist Senator Chantal Jouanno, who authored the amendment, told the Senate: "The foundations of equal rights are threatened by the hyper-sexualisation that touches children ... between 6 and 12 years old.

"At this age, you need to concentrate on acquiring knowledge. 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.

"Let's not let our daughters think from such a young age that they will be judged according to their appearance. Let's not let commercial interest impact on social interest."

The exact details of the ban are not clear. It does not specify whether it would be extended to include online photo competitions or competitions involving babies.

The measure was prompted following a row over a controversial photo shoot in a December 2010 edition of Vogue.

The photos feature a 10-year-old girl with two other young girls wearing heavy make-up, tight dresses and high-heeled shoes.

Vogue denied the photos were inappropriate and merely portrayed a common fantasy among young girls to dress like their mothers.

Michel Le Parmentier, organiser of mini-Miss pageants in France since 1989, said he was disappointed that the draft law involves a complete ban. He argues that more regulations, rather than a cross-the-board ban, would be more appropriate.

Some pageants in France have already made an effort to "desexualise" their competitions, including banning make-up, swimsuits and anything else considered inappropriate for the girl's ages, such as high heels.