Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Thursday 15 August 2013

On the Age of Consent...

...but initially, at least, probably not the one you were thinking of:
The furious mum of a 14-year-old girl tattooed by an unlicensed amateur shopped him to police.
In a story fraught with interesting comparisons, an untrained tattoo artist in Gloucestershire has been fined under the Tattooing of Minors Act 1969 (so much for this being a recent phenomenon).

The court was told that the girl 'pestered' the 23-year-old man into giving her a £20 tattoo 'in memory of her grandfather', telling him halfway through that she was sixteen years old.
He admitted not asking her age but assumed she was 18.
As you'd expect from an inexperienced amateur who purchased his needles and ink on ebay, the tattooist didn't ask to see any proof of her age before starting work.

After that, he had no option but to plead guilty, of course, particularly as she told him she was sixteen; it is illegal to tattoo anyone under eighteen except for medical reasons.

It's not the first case of its kind, and will certainly not be the last, but it does raise the problematical question of girls who appear much older than they are. In a case some years ago, a tattooist defended himself after inking a fifteen-year-old:
He said: “What was she doing here at 2.30pm with £100 in her pocket? We had every reason to believe that she was over the age of 20. She did not look under 18.
With cosmetics and adult clothes, some fourteen-year-old girls can easily pass for late teens or even early twenties. I have even observed, on a school trip, a carefully made up and coiffured schoolgirl being mistaken for the accompanying teacher.

Which leads me to an unpleasant but relevant point. In a recent Channel 4 programme about child soldiers, the narrator explained something which may shed additional light on a recent spate of court cases in the UK.

Few people in Afghanistan, he said, know for certain their exact age. A child's stage of development is judged entirely on appearance; for boys, this means that facial hair proves they are old enough to be soldiers, even if, by our standards, they are barely above primary school age. The programme naturally did not concern itself with girls, but one assumes the same criteria apply.

If that attitude extends beyond the borders of Afghanistan and accompanies immigrants to the UK, it presents us with the problem of a sector of society for whom our child protection legislation may well be effectively meaningless.

Leaving aside for the moment the appalling crimes perpetrated against teenage girls in recent years and looking at the broader picture, how do you explain the age of consent to someone who has no concept of chronological age?


  1. "it is illegal to tattoo anyone under eighteen except for medical reasons"


    Another law more honoured in the breach than in the observance, I think.

  2. Interesting post. I've worked in pubs for many years and you get the same problem there, although I do believe you get very good at spotting underagers trying to look older. It's probably the same in any trade where you deal with age restricted products or services, with the odd inevitable exception.

    What really bugs me is where staff ask for proof of ID when the customer is clearly over the age of 18. Mrs B has had it in supermarkets where they say she doesn't look over 25. (Shes 37). She politely explains that you don't need to be over 25 to buy booze. I'm not so patient. I angrily explain that a checkout operative who can't tell the difference between a 17 year old and a 37 year old has no business selling age restricted products.

    It's probably better that the odd chancer gets through than starting a system of over zealous ID checking and punitive fines.

    ""The programme naturally did not concern itself with girls, but one assumes the same criteria apply.""

    Indeed. You've got your first facial hair. You're a woman now :-)
    Those Afgan women though...

  3. for whom our child protection legislation may well be effectively meaningless

    In a nutshell, Macheath.

  4. WY, I'll take your word for it; the easy availability of kit certainly makes it more likely. it would be interesting to know how many underage tattoos are done with parental approval.

    Bucko, I was hoping you'd give us the pub perspective. Your wife's experience reminds me of the terrible humiliation that was my 21st birthday; with no ID except a credit card, I was refused service at the bar and had to get a friend to buy the drinks for me.

    *writes memo to self about proof-reading*

  5. I would just love to know what 'medical reasons' could exist that would require a tattoo!

  6. Julia, humans being a rather complicated shape, tattooed dots are used to line up equipment accurately for repeated sessions of radiotherapy.

    Most people let them fade, but I know of a keen musician who subsequently went to a tattoo studio and had hers converted into musical notes; I suppose it's a bit like constellations - the dots could be incorporated into a variety of imaginative shapes for those so inclined (though not, of course, until the patient has reached 18).


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