DEAR ABBY: You hear and read so much about preventing child abuse, yet one of the most common and blatant forms of child abuse goes on daily without comment.

I refer to the practice of piercing the ears of infants and small children who have no say in the matter, which is a terrible thing to do to a child. I have walked past shops in malls where this is being done, and heard little girls screaming. Forcing children to have a hole punched through a tender part of their bodies is cruel and barbaric.I've seen children not yet 3 or 4 with several earrings in each ear, with a hole for each earring! There is no doubt in my mind that a small child experiences a trauma from this abuse at the hands of the one who is supposed to love and protect them. Americans laugh at pictures of Africans with bones in their noses, but parents who inflict a similar (though lesser) disfigurement on their own children are no better. Please comment. - JAMES R. NEWBY, VAN BUREN, IND.

DEAR MR. NEWBY: I agree. I, too, am opposed to putting a hole in a child's ear. And yes, I am aware that in some cultures it is a traditionally accepted practice. But in my view, children should not be subjected to this until they are old enough to make that decision for themselves. (And please, dear readers, don't anybody bring up circumcision.)

DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend surprised me with a diamond engagement ring for Christmas. It wasn't cheap by any means, but I hated it. Now the problem. I went to the jewelry store it came from and exchanged it for the kind I wanted - a solitaire.

I've been married before and I hated my first engagement ring, so this time I wanted one I really liked, so I got a solitaire. I love my boyfriend with all my heart, and I wouldn't hurt his feelings for the world, but I'm afraid I did. I could see the disappointment in his eyes when I told him I had exchanged my ring for a solitaire. He admitted he felt hurt, but he never brought the subject up again.

Was I wrong to have exchanged the ring? I've been put down by family members. What do you think? - PUT DOWN IN CANADA

DEAR PUT DOWN: To have exchanged your engagement ring without first discussing it with your fiance showed bad manners, poor judg-ment and a blatant disregard for his feelings.

DEAR ABBY: Seattle's letter hit the nail on the head. A widow is treated much better than a divorcee. She gets to keep the friends and relatives from both sides. She gets nothing but sympathy. A divorcee gets bad-mouthed, and all her so-called friends drop her. One explained she thought it was "catching."

How I wish I had been a widow. Life insurance is preferable to alimony and child support - which is not always collected anyway. And what about child custody battles? A dead man leaves his children with their mother, and his widow is rid of him for life.

I was lucky. I remarried a wonderful man soon after my divorce. I am not bitter, but I will never forget the shabby treatment I received following my divorce. - LONG ISLAND

CONFIDENTIAL TO "MY TURN IN TORONTO": Seize the opportunity to be superior. "By taking revenge, a man is even with his enemy, but by passing it over, he is superior." (Noah Webster)

Everything you'll need to know about planning a wedding can be found in Abby's booklet, "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." To order, send a long, business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada), to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054. (Postage is included.)