Bill Protecting Underage Models Is Signed; What It Means for the Industry

Valeria Nekhim

Coco-Rocha

Glamorous as it is, the modeling industry is notorious for often employing underage girls and denying them the various legal rights normally afforded to, say, child actors. But that’s finally about to change.

Last night, The New York Times reports, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York signed legislation that will recognize fashion models under the age of 18 as child performers. The law strives to drastically improve the working conditions of young models via requirements that limit the number of hours they can work, as well as enforcing health and safety standards and ensuring those under 16 are accompanied by a “responsible” person.

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During a press conference this morning for the new child labor bill, Coco Rocha got teary-eyed at the podium while discussing her own experiences as a model who started her career at age 15.  “When I started modeling, I traveled to many different places alone, without a chaperone or any real legal rights. I’m so glad that’s changing for children—and they are children—in the future,” she said.

The ultimate goal of the law, which is expected to go into effect in 30 days, is to discourage designers from employing very young models altogether.  Susan Scafidi, the academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University said it’s likely employers will have to fill out plenty of paperwork in order to register the employment of underage models, and they’ll have to monitor their hours. For instance, a model under 18 would be banned from working past midnight on a weeknight.

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Despite all the publicity surrounding the issue, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America urging its members to set a minimum age of 16 for runway models, statistics reveal that nearly 55% of models start working between the ages of 13 and 16 years old. For his Fall 2012 show, Marc Jacobs cast Ondria Hardin, who was thought to be 14 or 15 at the time.

The driving force behind the new bill is Sara Ziff, a working model and the founder and executive director of the Model Alliance, a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect the rights of models. Ziff’s efforts were advanced thanks to help from the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University, along with the support of fellow models like Rocha. The true test of the new legislation will be take place in February 2014, when New York Fashion Week kicks off.

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