Memorandum submitted by the National Organisation
Circumcision Information Resource Centre of Northern Ireland
I welcome the opportunity to participate in
a call for evidence by the Joint Committee on Human Rights regarding
the current problems experienced by children in the United Kingdom
and the protection of their human rights.
I am writing you concerning those children in our
society who are subjected to genital mutilations at an age when
they are incapable of providing consent, who are further discriminated
against on the basis of their parents cultural background and
a lack of fatual information.
There are may charities involved in education
and raising awareness in this area of child health and human rights
we work nationally and internationally. We come from a variety
of background and include members of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian
communities. Many of us became involved in this work because we
are parents of damaged children and only became aware of the facts
after our children had surgery. As you can imagine this work is
extremely difficult due to the taboos surrounding the discussion
of the genitals in general, due to the religious and cultural
aspects of these practices and due to the most intimate nature
of the problems experienced by survivors.
Whilst being equally concerned about the genital
mutilation of all children I will focus on the circumcision of
male children as currently there is some degree of protection
for female children due to a greater public awareness of the harmful
nature of the procedure, the excellent work of FORWARD and the
development of the Metropolitan Police's, Project Azure.
Currently however there it a total lack of a
public knowledge that male circumcision is harmful to the developing
child and the adult he will become.
10 years ago Baroness Jenny Tonge speaking in
the House of Commons said that the eradication of both practices
"Speaking from a medical point of view,
it would be helpful if, when we campaign for the abolition of
genital mutilation, we included male genital mutilation. I am
sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that there is no medical
reason for male circumcision. Many small boys are seriously damaged
by that operation being done by unlicensed practitioners and people
who do not know how to do it properly. It may broaden the issue
and make it easier for certain cultural groups to accept if we
go for both forms of operation, not just one of them."
Although there are those who have argued that
circumcision is benign, the Canadian Children's Rights Council
is quite clear on the damage caused by male genital mutilation.
With Finland calling for an outright ban until the child is old
enough to consent.
Circumcision often causes an ulceration at the
urethral opening (meatal ulceration), affecting 20% to 50% of
all circumcised infants. In many cases, the opening narrows (meatal
stenosis), although it may take years for the condition to be
noticed. The normal urinary stream in the male is a spiraling
ribbon. The urinary stream in meatal stenosis is needle-like,
prolonged and frequently associated with discomfort.
Circumcision also affects sexual pleasure. The
inner layer of the foreskin produces smegma, which keeps the glans
soft. Without its protective and moisturizing cover, the sensitive
glans becomes dry and leathery, resembling skin instead of a mucous
membrane. In addition to maintaining glans sensitivity, an intact,
mobile foreskin also provides indirect stimulation during intercourse.
Recently More 4 News reported on the
circumcision of a male child by a mechanic in the community in
England and at a recent conference in London, the Metropolitan
police confirmed that deaths have occurred from male circumcision
Many parents believed and still do that genital
mutilations are beneficial for the health and well being of their
children however, UK courts have interceded in the past to protect
the best interests of children whose parental belief systems have
put children at risk.
In June 2007 the British Medical Association
which had previously offered general guidance on male circumcision
"That any decision to provide medical or
surgical treatment to a child, or any decision to withhold medical
or surgical treatment from a child, should: consider the ethical,
cultural and religious views of the child's parents and/or carers,
but without allowing these views to override the rights of the
child to have his/her best interests to be protected."
Male circumcision was not specifically mentioned
in this guidance however it cannot be in the best interest of
a child to be subjected, without its consent, to an irreversible
surgical procedure, which has proven adverse consequences both
in terms of potential complications for some and reduced penile
sensation in adulthood for all.
In September 2008, a new campaign was launched
in London with members of those working nationally and internationally
in this area. Paul Mason the Children's Rights commissioner for
Tasmania stated that
"Unnecessary genital surgery on babies is
said to be cheaper and easier than on adults. All abuse of babies
is easier. They are powerless and history will judge us by how
we protect the powerless."
It is always beneficial not to carry out surgery
when there are other non-invasive alternatives. A recent series
of circumcisions for religious reasons in an NHS facility reported
an 18% complication rate.
The overall rate of significant complications
for circumcision may be of the order of 2%-10%. Complication rates
of up to 55% have however been reported for circumcision. Recent
studies have reported sexual dysfunction rates of 27% to 38% secondary
to male circumcision.
Whilst having every respect for those from diverse
cultural backgrounds doctors have legal and ethical duties to
their child patients to render competent medical care based on
what the patient needs, not what someone else expresses. The majority
of parents and doctors work with the best interests of their children
at heart however many parents and doctors have been sadly misinformed.and
are uneducated in this area.
Nick Malone of the Sexual Problems Clinic in
Edinburgh Royal Infirmary has said:
"If the good doctors brushed up on their
science a little, we could bypass these tiresome refutations and
focus on more pertinent issues of legality, human rights and consent."
It may be argued, with some degree of persuasiveness,
that religious circumcision must be made available through doctors
to minimise the harm. The high rates of complications for circumcisions
in NHS hospitals and the later high rate of sexual dysfunction
remind us that male circumcision is a traditional practice prejudicial
to the health of children.
The Female Genital Mutilation states that in
applying the law,
"no account shall be taken... that the operation
is required as a matter of custom or ritual."
Clearly then we have discrimination when it
comes to protecting boys whose parents come from the Jewish or
Parents asserting their right to circumcise
their children assert that their right to manifest one's religious
beliefs is guaranteed by article 9 of the European Convention
on Human Rights (ECHR). That article of the ECHR however includes
a permission to restrict that right where necessary to protect
the rights and freedoms of others. Such a restriction is appropriate
to protect children from the harm inherent in circumcision.
It is quite clear that like female genital mutilation
male genital mutilation is a harmful traditional practice in the
sense of Article 24(3) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the
Child and is discriminatory under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland
Circumcision, of male or female children is
only ever justified if the patient's life is at risk if it is
not performedfor example if there is a tumour or a gangrenous
infection and if the patient is a sexually active and psychologically
sound adult, and provides proper consent after being fully informed
of all potential consequences.
This is a question of children's rights over
their own bodies this is a choice they must must all be allowed
to make for themselves as adults.
In December 2008 members of the National Organisation
Circumcision Information Resource Centre of Northern Ireland and
NORM UK met with the Commissioner for Children and Young People
in Northern Ireland to discuss the problems with regard to lack
of consent of the child, lack of informed consent of parents and
ways in which children could be empowered in this area.
The original reasons to make dissociation between
the practices of male and female genital mutilation were pragmatic
because it was believed at the time that the fight against female
genital mutilation would be more difficult if male circumcision
was also challenged. This has proved not be the case as despite
legislation 15,000 female children are still at risk in the UK
therefore education is central for the eradication of these practices.
On 2 March we will have new base in Belfast
in Bryson House to continue education and outreach in this area.
I trust that the committee will look at this
area as a matter of urgency before another child dies.