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Is Tattooing Kids a Crime?

Should parents do time for tattooing their kids?

Most people would agree that parents should be locked up if they physically abuse or punish their children to the extent of leaving marks on the body. But what about tats?

No longer taboo in our culture, tattoos still aren't OK by law in most states on kids under 18. In California, where a father is being charged for tattooing his 7-year-old son, the dad is facing a seven-year prison sentenced for cruel and inhumane treatment of a child.

Originally, the dad, Enrique Gonzalez, faced a life sentence for a tougher charge of "aggravated mayhem" for having a small gang sign tattooed on his boy's hip. A judge just downgraded the charge. Gonzalez is a member of the Fresno Bulldogs, a notorious street gang that takes its name from the mascot of California State University in Fresno. Dad and the other gang member who tattooed the little boy were arrested after the father's estranged wife found a paw print on her son.

I'm not a fan of tattoos (too permanent for my taste), but I've seen enough episodes of Miami Ink to understand their appeal to some people. I don't condone tattooing kids, especially with a gang tat. But forget the whole gang part of this story for a minute. Imagine that this kid's parent is, say, Angelina Jolie, who has about a dozen tattoos all over her body. Are you still outraged?

Gonzalez's defense attorney actually raised an intriguing argument last week when he was fighting the tougher penalty of mayhem, usually reserved for disfiguring beatings, shootings and stabbings. During questioning of the boy's pediatrician, he brought up the issue of other painful and scarring procedures that parents subject their children to, such as ear piercing and circumcision.

Apparently this boy asked his father for the tattoo, saying "I want to be like you." Reminds me a bit of my own daughters begging to have their ears pierced. In my home, we waited until the girls were 9 to punch holes in their ears. I rationalized that they were old enough to make the decision (and take care of their ears). But some people would argue that 9 is far too young to be the age of consent for anything. And what about all those newborns who get their ears pierced? Those girls can't even speak yet, let alone agree to permanently alter their ears.

Even more common: getting your newborn son's foreskin cut off.

Ah, some of us are a little sensitive about this topic, no? (Especially the moms who still remember their new sons' screams.)

Yes, tattooing kids seems barbaric, tacky, abusive. Yet how different is it from these other accepted marks we inflict on our kids' bodies long before they're old enough to make any decisions for themselves?