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Brazil’s pre-teen carnival queen breaks down

Julia Lira became the youngest drum corps queen as she lead the Viradouro samba school in Brazil’s world-famous three-day carnival. But her role in a sexually-charged position usually taken by scantily-clad actresses and models, has sparked much debate in Brazil.

Before the parades started late yesterday, a judge had over-ruled objections from a child rights agency that said Julia’s position in the samba competition at Rio’s Sambodromo was inappropriate because of the carnival's sexual focus. In Brazil, Samba, a style brought from Angola to South American via the slave trade, is not reserved for adults. Children compete in a samba school parade of their own a few days before the main competition.  But child protection advocates accused the 3,200-strong samba school of child exploitation.

Yesterday, Julia led the Viradouro samba parade into the packed Sambadrome stadium in a sequined halter top and purple feather miniskirt. Her father, Marco, who is the troupe’s president, t held her hand as he introduced her to the crowd.In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Lira told how he decided to go ahead and put his Julia at the head of  the extravaganza. “My wife said, ‘You are going to create a problem for yourself, she is 7 years old,’ ” Mr Lira said. “I said, ‘What problem?’ Just 10 minutes into the parade, surrounded by photographers and reporters, Julia burst into tears. "She cried because there were a lot of people on top of her," Mr Lira said. But after chance to calm down, away from the glare, Julia retook her position and began to dance.

Brazil has long had a problem with sexual exploitation of children, especially in the lawless Amazon region. Letting Julia to be queen “would increase the treatment of children as sexual objects in Brazilian society,” said Carlos Nicodemos, president of the Rio State’s Child and Adolescent Protection Council. “We are in favour of children taking part in Carnival,” said Mr Nicodemos, “it's part of Brazilian culture. What we can't allow is putting a seven-year-old girl in a role that traditionally for carnival has a very sexual focus.” He added, “This type of participation does not fit with the principle of child development. “

Singer Madonna was among the hundreds of thousands of fans who watched the first parades, while TV pictures were broadcast to millions across Brazil."She is too young to be drum corps queen," said Marister Deniz, 60, who was watching from the stands."A girl that size shouldn't be thrust into such a role," he told Associated Press news agency.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children