A 10-Year-Old Got a Tattoo. His Mother Was Arrested. | #teacher | #children | #kids


Shortly after Malik’s death, Gaquan asked for the number 3 on his arm — the number from his brother’s basketball jersey. His mother agreed.

When teachers at Gaquan’s elementary school saw the tattoo, Ms. Napier was reported to the police — it is illegal in Georgia for anyone under 18 to receive a tattoo. Ms. Napier pleaded guilty to tattooing a minor and was sentenced to 12 months’ probation, according to court records.

Gaquan Napier is now 24 years old, and Ms. Napier still feels she did nothing wrong — rather, she believes it was unjust that her effort to honor her youngest son’s request, which she characterized as an effort help him heal emotionally, made her a criminal. (Mr. Napier did not respond to a request for comment made via his mother.)

“You can take your little girl and get her ears pierced, what is the difference in that?” said Ms. Napier, who bears a similar memorial to Malik on her own arm. “I didn’t make my child do a thing, that was his choice. That was beautiful that he thought of that.”

Limiting tattoos to adults is a relatively modern, Western practice, said Lars Krutak, a tattoo anthropologist and research associate at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, N.M., who has studied tattoo culture in 50 Indigenous tribes across 30 countries. From Japan to Kenya to Borneo, he said, tattoos for children marked life stages, were used as tribal identifiers and were believed to have medicinal or therapeutic purposes.

“Maybe decolonizing the Western thought concept of ‘age-appropriate’ tattoos could be enlightening,” Mr. Krutak said. “But I am not saying that children should be tattooed at 10 and 11 years old, because they still have a lot to learn about the world.”

In the Western world, laws specifically proscribing minors from getting tattoos spread in the middle of the 20th century — though broader child protection laws were used to prosecute the tattooing of children from the late 19th century onward, said Matt Lodder, a professor who specializes in tattoos at the School of Philosophy and Art History at the University of Essex in England. In his new book, “Painted People,” Dr. Lodder features a page from a 19th-century toy catalog where a tattoo machine is offered for sale among the toys.



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