A beauty pageant that featured bikini-clad 6-10 year-old girls strutting down a catwalk in front of a hooting crowd with beer-drinking men has sparked outrage in Colombia, and prompted officials in that country to investigate its organizers on possible charges of sexual exploitation.
The event, creepily called Miss Tanguita, or “Little Miss Thong,” was a junior version of the “Miss Thong” event, an annual beauty pageant held in the eastern city of Barbosa.
Organizers of the event argue that the parents of the young girls consented to have their daughters participate in the beauty contest. The mayor of Barbosa said the pageant encouraged girls to be healthy and “respect their bodies.”
But when videos of “Miss Tanguita” were posted to YouTube showing the kids parading about like Victoria’s Secrets models, the Colombian media jumped all over it.
“For starters, the name little miss thong is incompatible with childhood,” tweeted TV news host Vanessa de la Torre.
Outrage spread on Twitter and across traditional media outlets, prompting a quick reaction from Cristina Plazas, Colombia’s director for child protective services (ICBF).
“The Miss Tanguita contest violates the rights of children! We will bring up charges against organizers, parents and sponsors,” Plazas tweeted. Plazas said that ICBF has filed a formal complaint with the Attorney General's Office, which is now investigating whether the contest violated statutes to protect minors from sexual exploitation.
Barbosa Mayor Maryury Galeano, however, rejects accusations that the event was sexually exploiting children or encouraging pedophilia.
“I’m not inducing any children here into prostitution…all those who entered the contest had consent from their parents,” Galeano told a local radio program, adding that she would talk to government officials to clear up the situation.
The Miss Tanguita pageant was part of Barbosa’s annual “river festival,” a three-day carnival that includes public concerts, water sports competitions, the adult version of the Miss Tanga pageant, and a ton of drinking and dancing.
Dozens of beauty pageants take place in Colombia each year, the largest of which, Miss Colombia, is a widely anticipated event with full-page magazine spreads on each candidate and ample commentary on who will take the crown.
But despite Colombians' obsession with pageants and beauty, the sexualization of little girls was too much for many to stomach.
“We have to teach boys and girls to value women for their talent and intelligence, unlike Miss Tanguita which only prizes beauty,”said Twitter user Andres Quintero.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.