Wales politics

Parents 'should approve skin piercings for under-16s'

Under-16s would be stopped from having cosmetic piercings without their parents' permission under a proposal from the Welsh government.

It will consult on whether there should be a legal age of consent for piercings, including to ears.

Ministers fear young people being exposed to problems after being pierced, such as infections.

Health Minister Lesley Griffiths said there had been tragic cases when people had died after being pierced.

There is no minimum age of consent in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for piercing. Under-16s in Scotland need parental consent.

The Welsh consultation will ask whether new restrictions are needed and, if so, how they should be implemented.

In a statement to AMs on Tuesday, Ms Griffiths said: "If a minimum age of consent for cosmetic piercing were introduced in Wales, I would favour setting the age at 16 years."

She said that "in the main" 16-year-olds were able to "maturely and intelligently" consider the risks and implications of having a cosmetic piercing.

But Plaid Cymru AM Jocelyn Davies asked why the matter appeared to be a priority for the government.

"I imagine that there is a number of serious individual cases relating to piercing, but not necessary related to age or the lack of parental consent," she said.

"I'm just wondering why bring this now? Surely there area more urgent things to address?"

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams asked whether there was international evidence that legislation of this kind would cut the number of complications and health risks.

Conservative health spokesman Darren Millar said 16 was an appropriate age limit, but suggested 18 would be more suitable for intimate piercings.

Petition

In February 2009 a petition was submitted to the assembly calling for restrictions on the age at which a minor can have their bodies pierced.

The lead petitioner was Russell Downe, a father of two and a town councillor from Llantwit Major, Vale of Glamorgan.

He said he felt piercings for minors should be regulated, other than to ears and the nose, when his oldest daughter Jessica wanted her tongue pierced at age 13.

"I said to her when she's 16 we will talk about it again," he said.

"It's not that I'm against piercings. I think it should be regulated so that young people can't just go in and be pierced."

The chain Blue Banana offers piercings at 15 shops in the UK, including in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport.

Managing director Jon Taylor said the business already asks for the consent of parents before piercing under-16s and would support the age restriction being made legal.

"We have enforced, as best we can, our own guidelines, for the client's safety," he said.

"Very young people tend not to listen to the advice they are given or to be distracted and therefore mess with their piercings and end up with minor infections and complications.

"We would be delighted if they want to make that law and enforce it."

In 2004 the UK Department of Health said it had no plans for legislation to make piercing of minors a criminal offence and that a minimum age of consent might result in children piercing themselves or each other in unsafe and unhygienic ways.

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