Page last updated at 08:52 GMT, Saturday, 6 February 2010

Row over Rio Carnival role for seven-year-old girl

Julia Lira rehearses in Rio, 3 Feb
Julia Lira's father says she is a natural samba dancer

A row has erupted in Rio de Janeiro over the decision to make a seven-year-old girl "queen" of a top samba school taking part in the famous carnival.

Children's rights groups have raised concerns that it is inappropriate for a child to take on the traditionally "sexy" role for the 80-minute parade.

But Julia Lira's father dismissed their concerns, saying she was a natural and would cope with dancing in the heat.

A judge is now considering a ban on her starring role in next week's parade.

Julia has been picked as the drum corps queen for the Viradouro Samba School, which is among a dozen top-tier samba groups to take part in the annual Carnival.

To be queen of a Rio samba school is one of the most sought after roles in carnival but is more often associated with scantily-clad women, for whom a little plastic surgery is not uncommon, the BBC's Gary Duffy in Sao Paulo says.

While Julia would certainly represent a very different image, her potential participation is alarming child welfare groups, our correspondent says.

Any man who looks at a seven-year-old girl and feels any sort of excitement should go see a doctor
Marco Lira, Julia's father

The Rio de Janeiro state Council for the Defence of Children and Adolescents suggested it would only "increase the treatment of children as sexual objects in Brazilian society".

"We're not against kids participating in Carnival; it's part of Brazilian culture," the council's director, Carlos Nicodemos, told the Associated Press (AP) news agency.

"What we can't allow is putting a seven-year-old girl in a role that traditionally has a very sexual focus."

Viradouro organisers have said Julia's outfit will be appropriate for a child and that she will cope with the demands of dancing for 80 minutes in the sweltering summer heat.

Julia's father, Marco Lira : "“She is a child who is capable of being queen of the drum call”

"Any man who looks at a seven-year-old girl and feels any sort of excitement should go see a doctor," her father, Marco Lira, told AP.

"She has the aptitude to be drum corps queen... she has a seriousness inside of her when she is on stage."

A family court in Rio is expected to rule this week on whether she can take the role. Carnival events will run from 13 to 16 February.

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