She has been dubbed the Shirley Temple of samba. But picking seven-year-old Julia Lira as a samba school’s drum corps queen for next week’s Rio carnival has sparked a national row in Brazil.
Children’s rights groups are outraged at a child being cast in what is usually a very sexual role, occupied by scantily-clad beauties who have often had plastic surgery.
Julia’s father Marco is President of the Viradouro School and stands by his choice.
“She knows how to samba,” he said. “She has an aptitude for it. It is not like we are lowering the bar for her, she is a child who is capable of being the queen of the drum corps.”
Anyone who gets excited by a seven-year-old should “see a doctor” he added. But the state agency for child protection is worried Julia’s participation will “increase the treatment of children as sexual objects”.
The row has grown so big a judge has now been brought in to decide on whether the role – which also includes dancing for 80 minutes in the Brazilian heat and possibly late at night – is suitable for a child or not.
Meanwhile the government has launched its annual carnival AIDS awareness campaign – handing out more than 50 million free condoms and airing TV ads.
The campaign focuses on getting people to use condoms and is aimed at the young with the Health Ministry saying figures show more teenage girls and young homosexual males are catching the disease.