A petition started in the United Kingdom, claiming that ear piercing is a form of child cruelty, has already gathered close to 40 000 signatures.
Started by Susan Ingram on UK campaigning site 38degrees, the petition is set to be handed over to British minister for children, Edward Timpson. The campaign is aiming to make piercing of children’s ears illegal and to set an age limit on piercing.
According to the petition, “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.”
People differ in their opinions
The petition received attention in media across the globe with various news agencies covering the story.
On the 38 Degrees website people for and against the petition aired their opinions:
Heidi Wallis wrote: “It is correct what this petition says it serves nothing but, for the parents's vanity and to make them feel happy. Are the children really happy? no!!! and it's abuse.”
Another user, JG, wrote: “This is ridiculous. CHILD ABUSE?? Does anyone here know what child abuse actually is? Child abuse causes deeply-impacting, long-term emotional, mental and often physical negative impact. How many people have come out and said that they've been deeply-impacted on a long-term basis because their EARS WERE PIERCED AS A CHILD?! Maybe I've missed it.”
Some people were unhappy with the nature of the petition, feeling that there were more important issues that need to be attended to:
Danie E Boire wrote: “Whoever made this and whoever signed these are f-ing MORONS. Start a petition to stop sex trafficking or child hunger. Do something USEFUL with yourself. Dumbest sh*t ever.”
It is a cultural tradition for many
In India (and elsewhere in South-East Asia) babies' ears are pierced as part of the Hindu cultural tradition. Called Karna vedha sanskar, it is believed to ward off evil and is also done for traditional and aesthetic reasons.
In South America virtually all baby girls have their ears pierced as soon as they are born, always in the hospital and by a nurse.
For reasons yet unknown, and with no cultural reference, the practice has been picked up by parents in the West with quite some vigour.
Image: Brazilian Supermodel Gisele Bundchen posted this photo of herself and her baby Vivian on holiday in Costa Rica. Source: Instagram.
Hollywood reality star Kim Kardashian also famously had her first child, North West's ears pierced at 16 months - at home with tiny Lorraine Schwartz studs that are just one half-carat each, but according to Us Weekly are worth some $50 000. Similarly, actress Angeline Jolie reportedly had her daughters Shiloh and Zahara get their ears done at the ages of 5 and 6.
Piercings are not without danger
Piercing, although very common and often done by non-medical personnel in jewellery shops, is not without risk. Infections at the piercing site, allergic reactions to metals, formation of scar tissue and in some cases injury to cartilage and blood vessels may occur.
Infections are the most common complication of piercings and usually follow if the piercing site is not kept clean or the equipment used to do piercings is not properly cleaned.
As with all infections, the possibility of sepsis (where infection is spread throughout the body) is a possibility.
Abnormal growth of soft tissue after piercing is also possible. Keloid formation is the excessive formation of scar tissue which can be debilitating.
When is the right age for piercing?
Although no formal guidelines exist on when piercings should be done, the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that parents should wait until the child is old enough to care for the piercing herself.
Although most parents are of the opinion that it causes little harm and discomfort for small children, the child should not be traumatised by the event. Infection control is vital and any complications should be attended to immediately.
What do you think about this? Is it a harmless cultural tradition and a matter of personal taste, or a painful, unnecessary ordeal inflicted by selfish parents? Let us know in the comments or join the lively conversation on Facebook.
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Image: Young girl with pierced ears, from Shutterstock
Dr. Owen J. Wiese is Health24's resident doctor. After graduating from Stellenbosch University with additional qualifications in biochemistry and physiology he developed a keen interest in providing medical information through the media.