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Girl (7) set to become Rio's youngest carnival queen

Rio de Janeiro's youngest Carnival queen, just seven years old, will be allowed to samba dance alongside Madonna and Beyonce at Brazil's annual blow-out, a family court judge has ruled.

The choice of Julia Lira to lead the drum corps for the Viradouro samba group sparked controversy and a legal challenge by children's rights campaigners who said she risked being sexually exploited.

But the final word was left to the family court judge, who ruled on Wednesday that she could join the parade.

Lira is now expected to dance through the Sambadrome stadium after midnight on Sunday cheered by thousands of fans and celebrities.

Beyoncé and Alicia Keys are in Brazil to take part in the festival. But it is the much younger diva who has dominated pre-Carnival headlines. The selection of a tiny girl in a role usually occupied by scantily clad models has sparked a heated debate, with critics saying she is too young to star in the gruelling, sexually charged parade.

Despite the controversy, however, children have traditionally been part of Carnival celebrations. Raissa de Oliveira, a 19-year-old queen of the Beija-Flor group, has been parading since she was seven and was crowned queen at 12.

"This is a good break from the view of the queen as a sex symbol. The role of the queen is above all to present the orchestra of the samba school," said Hiram Araujo, cultural director of the Independent League of Samba Schools.