NSS speaks out at pro-genital autonomy event

Posted: Wed, 10th May 2023

NSS speaks out at pro-genital autonomy event

The National Secular Society has called for an end to all forms of non-consensual religious genital cutting at the Worldwide Day of Genital Autonomy.

In a speech on Sunday, NSS campaigns officer Dr Alejandro Sanchez urged the government to "ensure that no one is subjected to unnecessary medical or surgical treatment during childhood", as recommended by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The "bodily integrity, autonomy and self-determination" of children must be protected, he added.

The Worldwide Day of Genital Autonomy (WWDOGA) is held in Cologne each year to commemorate the verdict of a local court in 2012, which held that non-therapeutic circumcision of boys constituted grievous bodily harm and was illegal under German law.

The court ruled that the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents". Waiting until the child was capable of making their own decision about circumcision did not compromise the religious freedom of parents, it added.

Then-chancellor Angela Merkel said the decision to protect the bodily integrity of children risked Germany becoming "a laughing stock". The German parliament subsequently brought in new legislation to legalise circumcision.

Other groups represented at this year's WWDOGA included Terre de Femmes, an anti female genital mutilation organisation, and 15 Square, a support group for men affected by circumcision.

Religious genital cutting in the UK

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is illegal in the United Kingdom under the FGM Act 2003. This includes FGM performed for religious reasons. Non-therapeutic circumcision, by contrast, continues to enjoy a presumed exemption to the law against wounding.

Three baby boys, Celian Noumbiwe, Angelo Ofori-Mintah, and Goodluck Caubergs, have bled to death post-circumcision in recent years. Eleven were admitted to Birmingham Children's Hospital in just one year with life threatening haemorrhage, shock or sepsis following circumcision.

An NSS investigation last year revealed circumcisions were leaving children with deformed penises and babies requiring emergency blood transfusions.

In 2015, an English judge held that male circumcision is "more invasive" than some forms of FGM. The practice constituted "significant harm" under the Children Act 1989, he said. But, because it had a "basis in religion" and "health benefits", it fell within "reasonable parenting".

The NHS does not recommend non-therapeutic circumcision of boys and lists "permanent reduction in sensation in the head of the penis, particularly during sex" as a complication.

NSS: 'Religious genital cutting flies in the face of medical ethics and child rights'

Dr Sanchez said: "Subjecting a non-consenting child to a painful, dangerous and irreversible procedure to satisfy the religious wishes of parents flies in the face of medical ethics and child rights.

"The medical establishment and the government must now act, as they have done with FGM, to protect boys from medically unnecessary religious and cultural genital cutting."

Tags: Genital cutting