Istanbul: Turkey's Islamic-rooted government has banned pupils from wearing tattoos or body piercings in schools, a measure denounced by opponents as oppressive and unenforceable, reports said on Sunday.
While tattoos are frowned upon by conservative elements in Turkey's diverse society, they are highly fashionable among secular urban youth, including school-age teens.
The measure is the latest hugely controversial measure taken by the government in education, after it allowed girls in high schools to wear the Muslim headscarf, a move critics said eroded Turkey's secular principles.
The ban, which was published in Turkey's official gazette yesterday and reported by local media today, also forbids the dyeing of hair, make-up, as well as moustaches and beards for boys.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) co-founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to restore traditional values in Turkey, a drive seen by opponents as a bid to Islamise the country.
The head of the Egitim Is education union Veli Demir denounced the measure as impossible to enforce, given that tattoos could not be removed like a piece of clothing.
"Are they going to strip off their skin?" he asked, quoted by the Radikal online newspaper.
"What is going to happen to those (pupils) who already have tattoos? This is not a decision that a reasonable person can take. It is a decision taken without careful thought," he added.
"It is a decision taken by an oppressive mindset. Education is all about contributing to a child's development and protecting them," he said.
Ismail Koncuk, the head of another major education union, Egitim Sen, was more supportive of the move, saying there was no need for children with existing tattoos to have an operation.
He indicated the ban would apply only to children who want to get tattoos after it comes into force.
"There will be a confusion about when the tattoo was done," he admitted. "I believe that on this issue the school will take the initiative and help the child."
Erdogan has already made clear his distaste for tattoos, telling an up-and-coming young footballer in July to get rid of the tattoos on his arm.
"What are these tattoos? Why do you harm your body?" he told Berk Yildiz of the Galatasaray team.
"Don't be fooled by foreigners. God forbid, it could even give you skin cancer in the future," Erdogan said.