Children young as 3 in Auckland modelling competition

Kids as young as three were on Sunday preparing for a children's modelling competition in Auckland.

The winners will travel to China and take part in an international fashion show, which could involve a swimsuit component. Organisers say it's the first competition of its kind in the country.

The qualities they are looking for include photogenic, well-mannered and adorable. 

Parents say it's an opportunity for their kids to gain skills, but critics say such events sexualise the children and can lead to body image issues. 

Family First national director Bob McCoskrie says, "I don't think we should have those competitions at all, especially as young as four and five years old and especially when some of the international competitors that these kids may graduate to involve swimsuits".

Organisers say the New Zealand competition doesn't have a swimsuit section and in China it must meet criteria that mean it's suitable for children.

Jenny Yang, NZ Super Kids and Teen Model organiser, says it's "just a normal children's wear show".

"If some designers have swimsuits, it's a healthy children's look."

The organisers say the competitions teach the children many useful skills.

"[It's] art, like dancing, music... they can train at a very young age," says Ms Yang. "New Zealand lacks this, so we hope to provide an opportunity to train themselves... and have the benefit for their whole life."

Organisers say 165 children are participating in the competition that are between the ages of three and 15. Over the next few months the contestants will take part in auditions and more model training before the grand finale at Auckland's SkyCity in February.