Eleven-year-old Jessica Thompson's heavily made' />

Her mum says she's playing dress-up. Child advocacy groups say it's the sexualisation of a child.

Eleven-year-old Jessica Thompson's heavily made up face, which this month appears in a high-fashion magazine featuring semi- naked models, has prompted child protection group ECPAT to lodge a complaint with the Department of Internal Affairs censorship unit. But her mother, Rachel Thompson, told the Herald on Sunday that her daughter looks only like the dolls she plays with, and suggestions that her pose is sexualised were ludicrous.

The Spring 2006 edition is one of Pavement's most provocative, featuring pre-teen and teenage models - some in various stages of undress. A girl photographed lying topless on her bed, talks about her first "feelings of lust".

Chief censor Bill Hastings has conceded that Pavement had a "prima facie case" to answer over the images in a special teen issue cele-brating "Lost Youth". If in breach of the 1993 Films, Videos and Publications Classifications Act, editor Bernard McDonald could be sentenced to three months in prison or fined $10,000.

Thompson said she was at a loss to understand what all the fuss was about. The images of her daughter were neither overtly sexual or pornographic, she believed. "Have you seen a Bratz doll? They wear lots of eye makeup and eye liner. Jessica has been playing with makeup from an early age. It's never been a sexual thing - it's only ever been a little girl's thing. Children should be able to express themselves, without it being deemed as something sick."

She said Jessica, who is attracting international recognition, was an active outdoors child who enjoyed reading and writing. She had no interest in boys and would have no understanding about why some groups were so opposed to the Pavement images.

She said the photographs made her look a lot older, but to suggest she was highly sexualised was ridiculous.

"She is just a kid. I would never allow her to do something that put her in jeopardy or portrayed her in a sexual way."

Kiwi fashion icon Paula Ryan said that while in the past some magazines had come close to crossing the boundaries of decency and good taste, these photographs were clearly not an example of that. The photographs of Jessica were "pretty harmless, and the controversy seemed something of an over-reaction", she said. "Since time began, pre- teenage girls have been taking an interest in makeup. There's nothing sexual about it."

Amanda Betts of Red Eleven, the agency that represents Jessica, said she was "absolutely shocked" to hear the photographs were the subject of a formal complaint. Red lipstick didn't automatically transform a child into a sexual object, she said.

"You can't stop little girls from playing with their mothers' lipstick and eye shadow. I honestly think this situation has been misread."

ECPAT chairwoman Maureen Crombie said Jessica's mother was right in saying that children had a right to play with lipstick, but it was naive to think that "dress up at home" and photographs in a magazine like Pavement were the same thing.

McDonald said Pavement would never "deliberately sexualise" a girl of Jessica's age - or anyone under the age of 16. The photographs of Jessica were striking and haunting, and there was nothing sexual about them at all.

"She is just playing at being a bit older - playing at being like her mum and kind of failing at the same time. Every young girl does that, and it doesn't make it a sexual thing."