An online petition to ban baby ear piercing is taking off in the U.K.
The petition, which addresses U.K. Minister of State for Children and Families Edward Timpson, calls for a minimum legal age requirement for ear piercing.
"It is a form of child cruelty," writes the petition creator Susan Ingram. "Severe pain and fear is inflicted upon infants unnecessarily. It serves no purpose other than to satisfy the parent's vanity. Other forms of physically harming children are illegal -- this should be no different."
The petition has received over 35,000 signatures in only a week, prompting Labour Party Member of Parliament Mark Tami to declare his intention to raise the issue in the House of Commons.
“If we allowed parents to do other things to their children’s faces, like tattooing, that would be appalling, but although piercings can heal, they can still cause distorting affects on the ear, in the skin and muscle,” Tami told The Guardian. “The question is, what age is appropriate? Certainly a baby or a child has no opportunity of consenting to having the procedure done.”
Many people expressed similar sentiments in the petition's comment section. "Stop parents inflicting unnecessary pain on a child," wrote user Catherine H. "[S]macking a child is abuse, so how come sticking metal rods through their ears is not abuse??!!" asked Claire M.
"I suppose a lot of parents also don't like the idea of piercings, which is perhaps why they supported this campaign – that's fine, apply it to your own children, but the fact remains that it isn't a serious issue," commenter Dana C. wrote. "And it's also not solely for cosmetic purposes – it can be a cultural tradition, too, as was the reason for me getting them."
The cultural aspect of child ear piercing has been the subject of debate in the past. A 2012 New York Times op-ed compared the practice to circumcision in Latino communities. Many Indian families have their daughters' ears pierced at very young age as well.
Metro pointed out that the U.K. reality show "Blinging Up Baby" may be partly responsible for the recent outpouring of strong opinions about this issue. The program stirred up controversy after a mom pierced her 4-month-old baby's ears in an episode earlier this month.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics' website HealthyChildren.org, "If the piercing is performed carefully and cared for conscientiously, there is little risk, no matter what the age of the child." However, the organization cautions, "As a general guideline, postpone the piercing until your child is mature enough to take care of the pierced site herself."
In the U.S., there are no federal mandates about ear piercing, but certain states have laws requiring the parents' consent for anyone under 18. There are no legal minimum age requirements.
This U.K. petition could lead to a legal precedent, but as the mixed opinions online demonstrate, there's no clear consensus.