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New York's new child model protection law

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A new law has been passed in New York, coming into effect on 20th November, to give child models (under the age of 16) the same protection offered to other young performers, such as actors and singers.

The effects of this will likely be seen by New York Fashion Week in February, as it is probable that the law will discourage designers from using extremely young models in their shows. The new law puts limitations in place for the number of hours young models can work, as well as how late and how often they can be used.

While designers tend to use more models in their early 20s, it is still fairly standard practice for many models to be scouted and start their careers far before they reach 18. Additionally, the Council of Fashion Designers of America has urged its members to set a minimum age of 16 for runway models, while the Model Alliance is pushing industry reforms such as the addressing of sexual harassment claims, more transparent accounting processes and better access to health care.

At a press conference earlier this week, model Coco Rocha joined Sara Ziff, a former model and founder and executive director of the Model Alliance, to talk about this development.

Rocha said: "Having once been a child model myself, I know all too well that, up until now, a large underage workforce has lived and worked under very little legal protection in twenty-first-century New York… I'm so excited to see us make a huge step in the right direction, and I'm thrilled that I've been able to be a part of such a momentous moment which is sure to change the future of our industry for the better."

Under the New York law, people who employ models will have to ensure the following:

  • A responsible person will be designated to monitor the activity and safety of each child performer under the age of 16 in the workplace.
  • Child models will not be allowed to work past midnight on school nights for fittings for a runway show, or return to work less than 12 hours after they leave.
  • Employers must provide a nurse with paediatric experience as well as health-and-safety information.
  • An education requirement decrees that employers must provide teachers and a dedicated space for instruction.
  • A financial trust must be established by a child model's parent or guardian into which an employer must transfer at least 15% of the child's gross earnings.
Susan Scafidi, founder and academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School, added: "This is a major step for minors, made possible by the convergence of two social trends; concern over children's welfare, and the increased recognition of fashion as an art form - thus models as performers."

In the guidelines issued to designers so that they can familiarise themselves with the new law ahead of its implementation, Scafidi noted: "The easiest way to avoid fees, paperwork, monitoring and potential penalties is simply to use models 18 and over — and to ask the agencies and casting directors with whom you work to assist you in checking models’ ages."

Employers that violate these laws face fines starting at $1,000 for the first violation and up to $3,000 for the third. After that, they can lose the privilege to employ child models.

"The real sanction is the headline," says Scafidi, "No one wants to be the fashion house that is stuck in the headline: “So-and-so violates child labour laws.”’

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