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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Religious Surgery and Children’s Rights

Female genital mutilation (FGM)

Female genital mutilation (FGM) has been illegal in the UK since 1985 and the law was updated in 2003. Despite this, some British girls of Muslim parents are still being sent back to the countries of their parents' origin for this abusive procedure to be done. And, many believe it is even performed secretly in this country. We therefore question why there has not been a single successful prosecution since the practise became illegal. We are concerned that fear of upsetting cultural and religious sensitivities prevents such abuse and bodily harm from being tackled effectively.

Circumcision

All children deserve equal protection under the law, regardless of their gender, and the UK is obliged to ensure non-discriminatory application of its law under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.Given that female infants are protected from all forms of genital cutting in the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, there can be little argument that the same protection ought to be extended to male children.

The principle behind FGM ban was the protection of girls from any form of genital cutting, no matter how slight or what the cultural background of the parent. There is no legitimate basis for denying such protection to boys.

Circumcision is far from risk-free and affects a significant minority of infants. Scarring, infections, pain on urinating and psychosexual difficulties are not uncommon results of ritual childhood circumcision. In one hospital alone in 2011, 11 baby boys needed to be admitted to the hospital's paediatric intensive care unit with serious, life-threatening complications following circumcision. In February 2012, a baby boy died in North London as a direct result of bleeding complications two days after a ritual circumcision.

A statement of the Royal Dutch Medical Association produced along with seven other Dutch scientific associations including the GPs, paediatric surgeons, paediatricians and urologists concluded that the procedure can be harmful and that it violates the boy's human rights to autonomy and physical integrity.

This position was mirrored by the recent German court ruling which found that non-therapeutic circumcision of male children amounts to bodily injury, and is therefore a criminal offence.

We welcome the development that the lawfulness of child circumcision is being increasingly questioned and that medical opinion in a number of countries is similarly turning against the historic carte blanche afforded to infant circumcision on the basis that the parents' freedom of religion is the only consideration. Instead, it is now being recognised more widely that this non-therapeutic procedure for which there are numerous complications, some of which are very serious, is a breach of children's rights.

We reject the claim that a parent's right to religious freedom, entitles them to decide for themselves whether they wish to have this intervention carried out. Denying parents any entitlement to make such a decision does not constitute any limitation of the parents' right to manifest their religion; the child has rights too, not only to religious freedom, but also to the right to physical integrity. This invasive surgery is non-consensual, non-therapeutic, irreversible, unnecessary and not without risk. We argue that It should be postponed until the boy is old enough to give (or withhold) informed consent.

Find out more

Read a letter from the Secular Medical Forum to Chancellor Merkel urging her to protect German children from ritual genital cutting

Read our letter to Sarah Teather MP, Minister of State for Children and Families, asking her to investigate whether non-therapeutic infant circumcision is a breach of UK children's rights

Doctor faces private prosecution for circumcising baby boy without the mother’s consent

Doctor faces private prosecution for circumcising baby boy without the mother’s consent

Wed, 24 May 2017 12:10

A doctor is facing a private prosecution for assault after he circumcised a boy without the mother's consent.

“Growing recognition” that circumcision of children is wrong, as Danish doctors call for it to end

“Growing recognition” that circumcision of children is wrong, as Danish doctors call for it to end

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 15:47

The Danish Medical Association has made a "symbolic" statement calling for an end to male circumcision, arguing that the procedure should only ever be performed with "informed consent".

Forced cutting of young boys’ genitals violates the most fundamental medical ethics

Forced cutting of young boys’ genitals violates the most fundamental medical ethics

Mon, 24 Oct 2016 15:39 by Dr Antony Lempert

Too often those who carry out forced cutting of young boys' genitals escape with gentle admonishment, rather than punishment commensurate with the severity of their actions, writes Dr Antony Lempert of the Secular Medical Forum.

Secular medics welcome religious circumcision ruling

Secular medics welcome religious circumcision ruling

Fri, 22 Apr 2016 10:37

A High Court judge has ruled against a devout Muslim who wanted his children circumcised, finding that the boys should be able to make the choice themselves in a judgement welcomed by the Secular Medical Forum.

Judge rejects Muslim man’s bid to have children circumcised

Judge rejects Muslim man’s bid to have children circumcised

Tue, 19 Apr 2016 14:50

A High Court judge has ruled against a devout Muslim who wanted his children circumcised, concluding that the boys should be able to make the choice themselves.

Council of Europe “retreat” on circumcision of young boys

Council of Europe “retreat” on circumcision of young boys

Thu, 08 Oct 2015 16:50

Jewish and Muslim groups have claimed victory after the Council of Europe 'retreated' over a proposed ban on male circumcision and instead recommended that it only be performed by trained individuals.

Council of Europe under pressure to reconsider its resolution condemning male circumcision

Council of Europe under pressure to reconsider its resolution condemning male circumcision

Wed, 18 Dec 2013 13:02

According to a report in the Times of Israel, the Council of Europe is to revisit last October's resolution which stated that the ritual circumcision of young boys violates their basic human rights.

Nordic children’s ombudsmen take historic step to protect children’s rights

Nordic children’s ombudsmen take historic step to protect children’s rights

Tue, 01 Oct 2013 09:47

Yesterday, during a meeting in Oslo, Nordic ombudsmen for children, Nordic paediatricians, and paediatric surgeons agreed a resolution urging their national governments to work for a ban on non-therapeutic circumcision.

Swedish Ombudsman calls for ban on circumcision

Swedish Ombudsman calls for ban on circumcision

Mon, 30 Sep 2013 15:17

The Swedish Ombudsman for Children has written to a newspaper calling for the country to outlaw the circumcision of boys.

Secular Medical Forum challenges Ed Miliband’s support for religious circumcision

Secular Medical Forum challenges Ed Miliband’s support for religious circumcision

Mon, 11 Mar 2013 13:08

The Secular Medical Forum has condemned Ed Miliband's recent support for the ritual genital cutting of children and called on the labour leader to rethink his stance on the issue.

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