THREE illegal tattoo artists have been charged by police with giving tattoos to under-18s as the number of “back-street” operators rises in the Lothians.
Police recorded 16 offences under the Tattooing of Minors Act 1969 between last April and June, but professionals in the industry believe the numbers are only the tip of the iceberg.
One city tattoo studio said an average of two people a week come in to have tattoos by unlicensed artists fixed or removed.Many of these customers are as young as 15.
Unlicensed operators work from private homes or pay visits to clients, while “tattoo parties”, where several people are tattooed on the same night, are growing in popularity. The trend has sparked health fears over unhygienic equipment being used and the offenders’ willingness to tattoo children.
It is understood that the three people charged by police were responsible for 15 children being tattooed over the year, with only one charge relating to a licensed establishment.
Brooke Mackay-Brock, owner of the Love Hate Tattoo studio on Newington Road, said: “We get people coming in all the time to have a tattoo fixed or removed that was been done at a house or a tattoo party. We see a lot of poor quality tattoos that are squint or have bad line-work. I would say it’s an average of two a week, with 15 or 16-year-olds quite common.
“It’s definitely a growing problem. You can buy tattoo kits from eBay. The kits come with the needles and ink and you just have to put them together. They are often people with no qualifications who decide, ‘well, I can do it’.”
Ms Mackay-Brock said under-18s often visited her studio with fake IDs to try to get tattoos. She added: “Kids wanting tattoos hear from friends that they can get it done at someone’s house, or at tattoo parties where five or six people might get tattoos on one night.
“I’m doing laser treatment on a 17-year-old girl just now who got a tattoo in a house when she was 15.
“The risk of blood-borne disease is the main reason not to go to houses.
“They may use disposable equipment but they may re-use needles, even if they are doing several people at once. These tattoos can get infected and leave people scarred for life.”
In 2007-8, only two people were charged under the Tattooing of Minors Act 1969, rising to three in 2008-9, six in 2009-10, before reaching 16 last year.
A police spokeswoman said: “Lothian and Borders Police will pursue any reports of people illegally tattooing underage people, whether it be in a licensed shop or private home.”
There are 27 licensed premises in Edinburgh which carry out a mixture of tattooing and/or body piercing, with around 60 licensed individuals working in these studios.
Councillor Robert Aldridge, the city’s environment leader, said: “The council views the tattooing of under-18s as a very serious matter and it is made clear to licensed operators that they could face having their licence revoked if found guilty of such an offence.”