China's child modelling industry booms amid controversy
In an industry where minors can earn USD 1,450 a session, Show Stars modelling school founder says that violent behaviour from parents was not unusual.
BEIJING: Manicured children strut down the catwalk at a Beijing fashion show, one of the thousands of events driving huge demand for child models in China that insiders warn leaves minors vulnerable to physical abuse, 12-hour-days and unrelenting pressure from pushy parents.
The kids' apparel market is growing faster than any other clothing sector in the country and was worth more than USD 40.5 billion in 2018 according to Euromonitor.
This, combined with the rise of "influencers" sponsored by brands to promote products on social media, is spurring greater demand for young models -- but experts warn of the heavy cost of pursuing such deals.
"If children don't listen to the parents then I think hitting them is quite standard," Lee Ku, founder of Le Show Stars modelling school, told AFP. A video of a mother kicking her three-year-old daughter in fury at her failure to comply during a modelling job went viral earlier this year, causing outrage online.
And footage emerged in early August online of a young boy modelling thick winter clothes outside as temperatures soared to 37 degrees Celsius, also drawing heavy online criticism.
But in an industry where minors can earn 10,000 yuan (USD 1,450) a session, Lee says the clip is the tip of the iceberg and that from his experience, such violent behaviour from parents was not unusual on shoots.
Child models sometimes go through more than 100 outfit changes in a session, often working from morning till night.
But mental health experts warn it is not just physical exhaustion they have to contend with -- there may be long term emotional implications.
"Children from the age of zero to six are mentally developing, they need a lot of exploration and freedom," explained child psychologist Gong Xueping.
"At work, the child model will deliberately show a lot of different expressions...but this is contrary to the child's own feelings of the moment. This limits the development of both emotional abilities and more complex psychological abilities for children, so I think it's a very bad choice," Gong added.