Right: let’s stop pretending a double standard doesn’t exist. A girl’s genitals are no more sacrosanct than those of the world’s men. Bodies are born, made as they were made to be made: there is no place in the modern world for doctor, state or faith to interfere. I’m going to state this very simply: it is time to ban all male circumcision, (unless for medical reasons) for all under 18s. I contend that the British parliament should debate this issue. Please read the article and sign this petition if you agree.
At the moment our girls are protected thanks to the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. Whilst prosecutions using these laws have been worryingly few, British attitudes towards Female Circumcision (now always referred to using the non-hyperbolic term ‘Mutilation’) have vastly shifted.
Right now, a few people are gasping into their coffees. How can we discuss regulating male circumcision? ‘Surely that’s anti-semitic’ or ‘oh no, another example of pernicious Islamaphobia seeping into our society’, they say’ (it is too easily to pull these Get Out of Jail Free Cards). ‘Absolutely not’, I will counter: this is progress; this is protection for our babies and, finally, this is long overdue. My father’s Jewish family agree.
We wouldn’t be the first European country to debate banning the practice. The Danish parliament have recently debated the banning of the practice. There have also been attempts to criminalise the act in San Francisco, Iceland and other Nordic regions.
In 2013 the Swedish Medical Association also recommended 12 as a minimum age for male circumcision and requiring a boy’s consent; this recommendation was unanimously passed by the Association’s ethics council and was supported by the 85% of Swedish G.Ps that are members of said council. Furthermore, the Danish College of G.Ps issued a statement that ritual circumcision of boys ‘was tantamount to abuse and mutilation’ (trans.) and a regional court in Cologne, Germany ruled in June 2012 that ‘male circumcision performed as a ritual conflicts with the child’s best interests as the parents’ right to religious upbringing of their children, when weighed against the child’s right to physical integrity and self- determination, has no priority.’ The Child Rights International Network agrees: ‘it is time we started debating the issue from a civil-rights stance’. The Human Rights Council also states it simply enough: each child has a right to determine his or her own future. Parents may direct not determine a child’s choices in life. Circumcision is irrevocable; it is clear determination on the part of the parents, not simply the lighter touch of religious or cultural ‘direction’.
Columnist Tanya Gold was outraged in October 2013 when the Council of Europe passed a resolution called ‘The Child’s Rights to Physical Integrity’ . She writes: ‘For Jews, circumcision, which is performed at eight days (if the child is healthy), is the covenant with God, and the single most significant ritual in Judaism: “My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people.” It is almost the only ritual that both progressive and ultra-Orthodox Jews, so often at each others’ throats as to who is the most righteous kind of Jew, agree on; even progressives who embrace marriage to non-Jews, gay marriage and female elevation to the rabbinate insist on it.’
She has a point. She claims that some members of the Jewish community will leave any country which passed laws banning circumcision outright. This would be wrong; no-one should be press-ganged from anywhere because of what they believe. But babies don’t believe in anything yet (remember it is parents’ role to direct not determine). There is more of a need for state institutions and legislature to protect the bodies of the vulnerable than ever before. Why not a ‘symbolic, non-surgical ritual’ at 8 days instead (as suggested by Norway’s Ombudsman for Children) and then when they reach adulthood; Jewish men can affirm the covenant their parents suggested for them and can elect to have the procedure themselves? Times do change: of the 613 mitzvot, (248 do’s, and 365 don’ts) prescribed in the Torah, only 369 are still operative.
Another journalist, Neil Lyndon writing in The Telegraph in July 2014 asserted that male ritual genital mutilation is ‘the barbarity that can never be named as such.’ His article entitled ‘It’s time for a proper debate on circumcision’ attracted over 600 comments from readers, including one man who, having been circumcised as a baby himself, was persuaded not to circumcise his own sons. Who persuaded him not to? His own mother.
Then, the medical argument. Bear in mind that most studies eschewing positive medical grounds for universal circumcision come from countries where the majority are already circumcised. Whilst around 78% of the world’s men are intact, over 98% of studies claiming ‘positive medical grounds’ for circumcision come from countries where the vast majority of men are circumcised. To those who claim HIV and other STIs are less easily transmitted by a cut male, it is interesting to note that the U.S has much higher rates of HIV transmission than Europe; in the U.S 55% of men are circumcised (although this rate is falling each year) and in Europe only around 11% are. The idea of cutting as protection is outmoded; just wear a condom. The STI debate is also slightly erroneous as ground for not banning the cutting of children; babies and children are not sexually active. Hopefully parents also wash their children and teach them to maintain good genital hygiene. In modern Britain, we bathe our children regularly; these are not the Middle Ages where baths were a suspicious luxury. We can prevent 99% of infections just by doing what we now do everyday.
Furthermore, plenty of psychological studies have begun to examine the impact of early circumcision on the developing brain. A Psychology Today article published in January 2015 affirms that: ‘Although some believe that babies “won’t remember” the pain, we now know that the body “remembers” as evidenced by studies which demonstrate that circumcised infants are more sensitive to pain later in life (Taddio et al., 1997). Research carried out using neonatal animals as a proxy to study the effects of pain on infants’ psychological development have found distinct behavioral patterns characterized by increased anxiety, altered pain sensitivity, hyperactivity, and attention problems (Anand & Scalzo, 2000).’ Even where pain relief is used, there are plenty of psychological consequences for boys including the body shaming notion that their bodies (as per design) were not ‘fit’ for purpose or a study from 1999 that proved that a majority of circumcised men conceptualized their circumcision experience as an act of violence, mutilation, or sexual assault.
The debate rages; of course it does. From excellent articles in America to very thorough research from The University of Oxford on the matter everyone wants to think about it. Well, let the debate rage here in Britain, I say and I repeat: I contend that the British parliament should debate this issue. Please sign here if you agree.