It’s hard to see a leading role for children in Carnival, Rio de Janeiro’s annual mega-festival, for which the Brazilian government will hand out 55 million free condoms, in an attempt to promote AIDS awareness and safer sex. But the naming of 7-year-old Julia Lira as the drum corps for the Viradouro samba group has stirred an intense controversy over whether children should be involved in the hyper-sexualized roles usually reserved for female Carnival participants.
The AP reports that “a judge is considering blocking Julia’s participation. A state agency that defends children’s rights says she’s too young to take on a traditionally sexy role.” There seem to be some strange parental influences: Julia’s father, who just happens to be the president of the Viradouro group, “says Julia is a natural who can easily samba through the 80-minute parade route in Rio’s sweltering summer heat.”
The hyper-sexualization of children has been an issue in Brazil in the past, and some argue that permitting Julia to be drum corps queen will simply exacerbate the problem. It “would increase the treatment of children as sexual objects in Brazilian society,” said Carlos Nicodemos, director of the Rio de Janeiro state Council for the Defense of Children and Adolescents. “We can’t put a 7-year-old girl in a role that traditionally for Carnival has a very sexual focus.”
It seems unclear as to how revealing Julia’s costume will be, and whether she’s being coerced into the role. When asked why she wanted to be drum corps queen, she said, “I’m happy because I like to dance.” But there’s also a question of whether she can physically handle the 80-minute-long parade in sweltering Brazil heat.
The decision will be made by a family court in Rio. But this much seems clear to me: Julia’s health is at stake, and for that reason alone she should not be the group’s drum corps queen. It also seems apparent, though, that a young girl should not be in the position of “sexy muse” – which is what Carnival queens essentially are. Perhaps that’s not a role that grown women should be in, either. And certainly, the fact that Julia’s father is the head of the dance troupe should set off warning bells in anyone’s head, simply in terms of power dynamics. I’m glad that Julia loves to dance, and that she’s excelling in this field, but no children should be pushed into physically taxing, hyper-sexualized roles without their full consent – nor, indeed, should adults.
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