Another brick in the wall? Or about time? Regulation of body piercing

Catherine Irving
South Australia

Body piercing and body modification of minors is now regulated in South Australia under Part 4 Summary Offences Act1953 (SA). While tattooing of people under 18 has been illegal in South Australia for many years, body piercing and other body modifications have not been specifically addressed by legislation. Various Bills regarding body piercing have been before Parliament since 2001, but none were successful until the Summary Offences (Tattooing, Body Piercing and Body Modification) Amendment Act 2011 became law in December 2012.

It is now a criminal offence to tattoo, perform ‘intimate’ body piercing, or a specified body modification including body branding, body implantation, earlobe stretching, tongue splitting and body scarification on any minor, or sell body modification equipment to any person under the age of 18 years — even with parental consent. The maximum penalty for performing one of the proscribed procedures is a $5000 fine or one year imprisonment.

The effect of these restrictions on cultural practices was considered, but the only exceptions that were introduced were for procedures performed in the course of medical treatment or for a prescribed medical or therapeutic purpose. People aged 16 or over are able to consent to non-intimate body piercing, but parental consent in person or in writing verified by a statutory declaration is required for non-intimate piercing for those under 16. It is reassuring to note that an intoxicated parent is not considered capable of giving consent.

A tattooer/piercer/modifier is required to enter into a written agreement with any customer (adult or minor) regarding the procedure to be performed, to provide information regarding health care following the procedure, and to keep the paperwork for 2 years. The only exception to this requirement is for earlobe piercing performed on a person 16 or older.

The legislation on body modification and body piercing is far from uniform throughout Australia. A short trip from the mainland to Tasmania would arguably enable a person of any age to have any of these procedures performed legally. In NSW, parents can consent to tattooing or other body modification of their children, but not ‘intimate’ body piercing. In Victoria, while tattooing, other body modification and intimate body piercing of minors is banned, a parent can consent to a child under 16 having non-intimate piercing; if the child is over 10, they too must consent to the procedure.

The South Australian legislation has the longest list of proscribed body modifications of any jurisdiction. It has the broadest definition of intimate body piercing and it seems that only South Australians are concerned about uvula piercing.

CATHERINE IRVING is a Legal Education Officer working in Adelaide.

(2013) 38(2) AltLJ 132
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