As It Happens

Does ear-piercing infringe on a child's right to have agency over their own body?

A sales associate at a Claire's in Edmonton quit her job after she could no longer support the practice of piercing children who are distressed and "non-consenting. Here's what Canadians think.

Raylene Marks quit her job at a jewellery shop over concerns she was piercing non-consenting children

A former employee of a Claire's in Edmonton has quit amid concerns about the company's policy on piercing children's ears. (Shutterstock/SFROLOV)

It's a rite of passage for many little kids: getting your ears pierced so you can wear a bit of adornment — just like a grown-up.

But how many of us have less-than-joyful memories of getting a metal rod punched through our lobes as a kid?

On Tuesday, As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Raylene Marks, who recently quit her job at a Claire's jewellery shop in Edmonton, where she was often required to pierce the ears of young children.

After a particularly traumatic session, Marks said she became concerned she was infringing on "a child's right to have agency over their own body."

'The worst experience'

After that interview, As It Happens heard from many listeners — including one person from Windsor, Ont., who had a similar experience working at a mall store that offers piercing services.

"The young child that I worked on, she was actually autistic and it was the worst experience that I'd ever gone through in my life," the caller said. 

"The mom made us restrain her. The child was literally clawing at me, begging me to stop, to please not let this happen. It was awful."

An As It Happens listener shares a traumatic incident where they had to pierce the ears of a non-consenting child. 1:22

On Facebook, Jarrod Bradley wrote: "Any body modification of any sort should be at the consent and desire of the individual. When I see babies and young children with pierced ears, I personally believe that it is solely the desire of the parent to have it done."

Maria Peters emailed to say: "I always hate when a mother gets their young daughter's ears pierced! By doing so, a mother is imposing their beliefs on outer beauty and femininity on their child before they have a chance to make that determination for themselves.

I feel it unintentionally undermines and devalues how a young girl feels about their own natural beauty. Why can't some mothers wait a few years for their daughters to decide want they want for themselves?"

An Edmonton Claire's employee who quit her job over her discomfort in piercing the ears of protesting children has ignited a larger discussion about piercing children. (The Associated Press)

Katie Perez wrote: "My daughter wanted her ears pierced so badly. But she was scared! I refused to do it until she sat by her own will for it. It took us two trips to the mall at Christmas time. It's a rite of passage and it's hers. I don't care if she wears earrings or not."

'A lot of teeth-gnashing over nothing'

But some people had a different take.

For one caller, ear-piercing is an uneventful, somewhat low-tech procedure. As long as you've got a needle, rubbing alcohol, a potato and Grandpa's steady hand — you're good to go.

"Everybody in my family got their ears pierced with my grandfather. He was a medic in the Second World War," said a caller from Corbeil, Ont.

"He would mark it. Pierce it, and away we go. "

An As It Happens listener shares memories of their grandfather's low-tech ear-piercing methods. 0:22

In an email, Laurence Fisher wrote: "We decided to pierce our girls' ears when they were babies. I used a hypodermic needle, they have open ends which you can put the wire end of the earring into and pull it back through — no muss, no fuss.

It is easier at that age. If they don't like them later, they can just let them grow over."

And on Facebook, Richard McIntyre wrote: "A lot of teeth-gnashing over nothing. My wife had my 11-month-old daughter's ears done with nary a peep of protest. If you're going to do it — get it done early.

I do understand a seven-year-old's anxiety about it, which is why I wouldn't be forcing it on any child experiencing obvious apprehension."

Finally, Nicole Imry left this PSA on our Facebook page: "If you're getting your ears pierced, get them done at a piercing studio or tattoo place. In general, you get better service, lower chance of infection, less pain, and it's done by a trained professional!

Also: As It Happens: Radio that brings you the truth, the hole truth, and nothing but the truth."

To join the conversation, you can find us on Twitter and Facebook, both @cbcasithappens. Our email is aih@cbc.ca. And we always love to hear your voice — so give Talkback a call, at 416-205-5687.

Written by John McGill and Ashley Mak. 
 

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