'Little Miss Thong' children's beauty pageant in Colombia sparks controversy

BOGOTA (AFP) - A children's beauty pageant in Colombia, dubbed "Little Miss Thong," sparked outrage online on Tuesday, but local officials are defending the contest in which eight-year-old girls parade in skimpy swimwear.

In the pageant, held Sunday in the northeastern town of Barbosa, in Santander department, young girls competed in bikinis as part of the annual Festival del Rio Suarez.

Local authorities denied the pageant was a pathway to child prostitution.

"We would never induce the girls to make inappropriate or vulgar acts," insisted Barbosa mayor Rocio Galeano on a local radio station.

"We are simply promoting the defence of the body, of body care," he said.

"It is giving the children the importance they deserve," the Mayor said, and letting them be included "in all cultural and sports activities."

The competition, which Mr Galeano emphasised has "always had the support and permission of parents," has sparked heated debate on Twitter.

"The Little Miss Thong competition is shameful and totally violates the rights of the girls! How horrible and irresponsible of the parents," Cristina Plazas, director of Colombia's family welfare institute, tweeted.

Ms Plazas said she was consulting "with lawyers on taking appropriate action" against the event organisers, as well as against sponsors and parents.

She also suggested bringing the issue to the attorney-general's office, which is tasked with overseeing public employees in Colombia, to punish authorities who encouraged this "abnormal" event.

Beauty contests are popular in Colombia, where pageant queens often compete at high levels in international competitions like Miss Universe and Miss World, as well as in smaller local events.

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