RIO DE JANEIRO – A family court judge ruled Wednesday that a 7-year-old girl should be allowed to samba before a crowd of thousands as a Carnival drum corps queen, a coveted role normally reserved for sultry models.
Little Julia Lira is scheduled to perform for the packed Sambadrome stadium — and for millions more around the country via live television — early Monday morning when the Viradouro samba group parades.
Her father, Marco Lira, told reporters he knew "justice would prevail."
The Rio state agency for child protection confirmed the ruling and said it would appeal to the Justice Ministry. Calls to Judge Ivone Caetano, who decided the case, were not immediately returned.
Viradouro's plan to make Julia its Carnival queen has created a stir in Rio and made headlines around the globe, with some child's rights advocates saying it's inappropriate for a young girl to be in such a traditionally sexualized role.
"The decision sets a negative precedent that will have implications across Brazil," said Carlos Nicodemos, who as director of the Rio de Janeiro state Council for the Defense of Children and Adolescents had asked the court to block Julia's participation.
Nicodemos said he worries about what message it sends to a nation that has long had a problem with sexual exploitation of children, especially in the lawless Amazon region.
Julia's father — who is also the president of Viradouro — has said concerns about the girl's well-being are overblown. He says the girl will wear a costume that is not too skimpy for a 7-year-old, and both he and his wife will watch her closely to make sure she doesn't get too tired during the 80-minute parade.
"She is my daughter, any father knows what I'm talking about," Lira said in rebuking criticism. "No one wants to exploit their child. She does not need that and I don't need that."
More than just a massive street party, Rio's Carnival parade is also a fierce competition between 12 top-tier samba "schools" whose winner is hailed by fans across Brazil.
Viradouro, which won the title in 1997, is no stranger to controversy. In 2008, a judge blocked the group from putting a dancer dressed as Adolf Hitler on a float loaded with naked people representing Holocaust victims.