Should you ever pierce your child's ears?

An online petition calling for ear-piercing to be banned for kids has 33,000 signatures
An online petition calling for ear-piercing to be banned for kids has 33,000 signatures Credit: Alamy

A mother has been arrested for piercing her child’s nipples.

I'm kidding, of course. If it were true, there would definitely be cause for another well-meaning, yet bored, mother to start an online petition to get such lunatics locked up for child cruelty.

Instead, Susan Ingram - of whom we know absolutely nothing – has stamped her disgust on the centuries-old tradition of having a female baby’s ears pierced. So far, almost 35,000 people have concurred with her outrage by signing an online petition calling for a ban on such ‘cruelty.’

• Thousands call for ear-piercing to be banned for babies in the UK

To my English eyes, earrings on toddlers are unspeakably naff.

They belong in the same venn diagram of awfulness alongside perfumes and nail varnish for toddlers; mums and bubs in matching velour tracksuits; and weaning infants by blending chicken nuggets. None of these trends are inherently harmful (except perhaps for the nutritional vacuum of the nugget) but it’s easy to look down our noses at these different parental choices – it’s purely cultural relativism.

"It is a form of child cruelty,” said Ingram (presumably as she tweaked her mummy blog and stirred a pot of quinoa). “It serves no purpose other than to satisfy the parent's vanity.”

She’s right about that – accessorising your child basically renders them as little more than an ornament themselves. This makes us suspect their interests are being ignored.

But that’s rarely the case. A mum who wants her kid’s ears pierced probably worships their baby in a way that means she’d be unlikely to let them lie all night in a wet nappy. The piercing-mum isn’t hiding her child in a darkened room while she sits smoking on the sofa; she’s dressing her up in gold studs and a frilly, stupid frock and showing her off.

And besides, posting smug ski-holiday snaps on Facebook is also vain; ‘baby on board’ signs can be vain; bragging about little Hermione’s ability to point at raisins can be vain.

Since ‘parenting’ became a verb rather than a noun in the '70s thanks to the advent of 'handbooks', it became a passtime at which one can pass or fail. Consequently, parenting is now used as a shop-window for any under-appreciated mum longing for someone to say she’s doing a good job (is there any other type?). So vanity is not reserved for piercing parents.

“Severe pain and fear is inflicted upon infants unnecessarily” laments Ingram on her petition. She might be right but can we please have some perspective? Tell that to a victim of female genital mutiliation.

If Ingram wants to bang on doors for the sake of unnecessary pain and fear, then she could stand up for the 20,00 girls who at risk of FGM in Britain each year, or the 130 million girls worldwide who have suffered that horrific procedure.

Ask those girls if they’d have winced at sitting on their mothers’ knee chewing on a biscuit, while a sterilised needle is momentarily put through a partially-numbed earlobe. Doesn’t quite cut it does it?

This petition actually calls on Minister for Children, Edward Timpson to take action and make such piercing illegal. This is final confirmation that these signatories can’t actually care about children.

If they did, they wouldn’t be wanting to waste Timpson’s time on a practice that isn’t really hurting anybody, when one in six British kids live in poverty. Genuine child-protection issues are daily headline news.

Ingram goes on. “Other forms of physically harming children are illegal- this should be no different". One of her petition supporters wails, "smacking a child is abuse, so how come sticking a metal rod through their ears is not abuse?"

Well, the fact is that smacking a child is not always ‘abuse’. It is legal in the UK as long as it amounts to 'reasonable punishment'. It is illegal if a mark is left. Thankfully, parents are still allowed to clip a naughty bottom if they feel it is justified.

Smacking a child cannot be compared to ear-piercing

An abuse survivor would laugh in the face of comparing their plight to the ability to wear earrings. It’s yet another example of the word ‘abuse’ being used to describe a parenting choice that is merely different to their own.

But there has apparently been little desire to look at the cultural differences at work here.

Personally, I still ignorantly presume that someone with a pierced eyebrow and a tattoo is likely to mug me. But that makes me an idiot.

Body modification through piercing has been practised for as long as 30,000 years by our species' earliest ancestors. Ancient Egyptians practised ear piercing. While ancient South American cultures, such as the Mayans and Aztecs, ritually pierced their tongues for blood offerings. Today, in Latin America, baby girls are uniformly pierced before they leave the hospital.

They are presented to their mothers wearing gold studs at an age when they are too small to pull them out and risk an infection. It might seem ridiculous – and look tasteless to some of us. But it makes sense to them.

So good luck to Ms Ingram if she thinks an online petition and an ambivalent Children’s Minister will over-turn millennia of cultural heritage. She’s going to need a lot of allergy-friendly gold to plug the holes in her argument.