ENTHUSIASTS call it body art.
Detractors say it is a foolish fad which scars one for life.
The issue, however, is: Are teenagers mature enough to weigh the consequences of getting a tattoo?
One tattoo artist is both a believer in body art and a detractor when it comes to tattoos for teenagers.
And he says the tattoo industry in Singapore is out of control.
Mr Joshua Ong, 37, a full-time tattooist at Johnny Two Thumb Tattoo Studio, wants regulation.
But, he said: 'I doubt that the Government will ever regulate the tattoo industry.'
Why does he want his own profession to be regulated? Because, currently, there are no safeguards against dirty needles, or age limits for teens who wish to have tattoos.
And while the Education Ministry has no fixed rules on students sporting tattoos, a number of schools do not allow them to sport exposed tattoos.
The New Paper reported yesterday the case of a student who was suspended by his school after his five tattoos were exposed.
He was told to remove them so his suspension could be lifted. But he chose to keep them and move to another school, with his mother's consent.
Mr Ong, who has been inking skin for 11 years, identifies with the school's stand. He does not allow anyone under 18 years of age to have a tattoo done at his shop.
'We let them browse, (but) that's all,' he said.
He's hoping the day will come when all tattooists will have to be licensed.
Currently, there is no Government body that regulates the tattoo industry in Singapore.
A Ministry of Health spokesman said: 'Tattoo artists are not considered healthcare practitioners. Tattoo parlours are not licensed by MOH and we do not keep track of such places or any place that offers tattoo services.'
Lawyer Luke Lee confirmed that there is no specific legislation or regulation governing tattoos. And, unlike some other countries, there is no age limit or restriction on those who wish to get tattoos.
Countries such as the UK, Australia and Hong Kong have age restrictions in place. But there are other countries, like Sweden, that do not have any such regulations. (See report, below.)
Indeed, even in countries with age limits and regulation, there have been abuses. Most recently, a teenager complained that the artist gave her more tattoos of stars than she'd asked for on her face. (See report, next page.)
Tattoo artist Ong said: 'It is up to the individual tattoo studio whether or not they would be willing to tattoo individuals under the age of 18.
'I would gladly support the idea of setting an age restriction for tattoos.
He said: 'If the Government does step in, it might be in the form of fining those who tattoo minors. I think that's fair enough.'
Tattoo artist Sam Wai Meng, 24, from Skin Label Tattoo Studio, has been in the line for six years. He is also all for enforcing an age restriction.
He said he felt that minors are not mature enough to know what they really want, and that they are easily influenced by market trends and peer pressure.
So, is it too easy to set up shop in this line of work?
Mr Ong said: 'There is no licence required to be a tattooist; you simply register your business.'
He added: ' A decade ago when tattoos were still considered taboo, we used to have to keep all sorts of records and logs for the Criminal Investigations Department(CID).
'Nowadays, we are pretty much left alone. Even the regular inspection of our autoclaves has stopped. Now we just send them in for maintenance ourselves.'
An autoclave is a device used to sterilise equipment.
Even if tattoo parlours are regulated, what's to stop teenagers from doing it themselves? Indeed, the urge is so strong that some students are doing it at home. (See report on page 2.)
Mr Chandran Lingam, 60, a retiree and father of three is all for having an age restriction for tattoos.
He said: 'If you are deemed to be not old enough to drink or smoke, why should you be deemed mature enough to get a tattoo?
'If there were an age restriction, at least I would have peace of mind knowing that my son is not going to come home one day with a facial tattoo that might ruin his life.'
But not everyone sees a need for such legislation.
Mr Alan Tan, 27, who has been a tattoo artist for four years, said: 'So far everything has been going rather smoothly. We have yet to face any serious problems in the industry despite not being regulated.'
But he did concede that his studio would not tattoo anyone under 18 unless they were accompanied by parents.
Student Dylan Nah, 16, said: 'I don't see why there should be an age restriction. Getting a tattoo is not going to kill me.
'But I'm not going to get one till I finish school, as I'd rather not risk getting in trouble with my teachers over it.'
Naveen Kanagalingam, newsroom intern
TATTOO LAWS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES
The age limit is 18. There is no parental consent exception.
The only exception is when the tattoo is done for medical reasons by a registered medical practitioner.
Anyone found guilty of tattooing someone under 18 can be fined HK$1,000 (S$188).
Repeat offenders can be fined $5,000 and jailed for three months.
Under the Tattooing of Minors Act, it is an offence to tattoo anyone under the age of 18.
It is, however, allowed for medical reasons, if done by a qualified medical practitioner or by a person working under his direction.
The act says that any person committing the offence 'shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50 ($120)'.
For subsequent convictions, the fine can go up to £100.
Under the Children and Young People Act of 2008, it is an offence to tattoo or pierce a part of a child's or young person's body without the written permission of a person with parental responsibility for the child or young person.
Maximum penalty is 50 penalty units. (The fine to be paid may vary from state to state.)
Anyone who tattoos or offers to tattoo a person under the age of 18 years is guilty of a misdemeanor.
However, the law makes it clear that it 'is not intended to apply to any act of a licensed practitioner of the healing arts performed in the course of his practice'.
This article was first published in The New Paper.