End forced genital cutting

End forced genital cutting

Page 4 of 26: No child should be subjected to unnecessary genital cutting.

We are committed to ending all forms of forced non-therapeutic genital cutting.

This includes female genital mutilation (FGM) and ritual circumcision of boys.

A child's right to bodily autonomy must not be overridden by other people's religious or cultural beliefs.

The National Secular Society supports a person's most fundamental right to grow up with an intact body and to make their own choices about permanent bodily modifications.

All forms of forced cutting on children's genitals breach basic child rights and safeguarding guidance.

Several communities have genital cutting traditions, often rooted in religious beliefs. But children, and particularly babies and young infants, are incapable of giving consent to such medically unnecessary, harmful, painful and permanent procedures.

Sometimes health benefits for non-therapeutic genital cutting are claimed despite the evidence to the contrary. All forms of forced genital cutting risk serious emotional, sexual, and physical harm – including death.

Child safeguarding must always be prioritised above the desire of adults to express their belief through forced cutting of children's genitals.

Female genital mutilation (FGM)

"It is irrelevant whether or not a person believed the operation to be necessary in the child's best interests as a matter of custom or ritual."

Section 1(5) of the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Act

We are committed to the eradication of forced genital cutting of girls and women known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in all its forms.

There are thought to be well over 100,000 women and girls affected by FGM living in the UK. We work with like-minded organisations to protect girls from the harm of forced genital cutting.

FGM practices vary. Some forms involve a pinprick or the removal of a small amount of tissue from the clitoris. Other forms include complete removal of the clitoris and labia, and stitching the vulva closed. Communities which practice FGM often cite religion as a motivation.

All forms of FGM are child abuse and are rightly illegal in the UK. But some British girls are still unprotected. Some have been sent abroad to undergo the procedure and others are having it performed secretly in this country.

There have been only two successful prosecutions for FGM since it was banned in 1985. We are concerned that fear of upsetting cultural and religious sensitivities is preventing authorities from tackling FGM effectively.

"...a right specifically for African families who want to carry on their tradition whilst living in this country"

Defeated 1993 Brent Council motion on making FGM available on the NHS. At the time councillors opposing the motion were abused and accused of racism and cultural insensitivity.

As with all forms of forced genital cutting, those who speak out against FGM are often accused of disrespecting their parents or cultural heritage, and of over-dramatising a 'minor' procedure that others 'don't complain about'. Together with the perceived humiliation of speaking about one's own genitals, these factors combine to ensure that many sufferers are reluctant to speak out.

Ending FGM requires sustained civil society action to change attitudes and inform girls of their rights.

Male circumcision

While all forms of FGM are rightfully banned, non-therapeutic circumcision of boys is permitted in UK law.

The foreskin is a normal body part with physical, sexual and immunological functions. Removing it from non-consenting children has been associated with various physical and psychological difficulties. These are likely to be greatly under-reported because people who have experienced sexual harm are often reluctant to reveal it as societal dismissal or stigmatisation may compound the harm.

Circumcision is excruciatingly painful. When performed on babies, little to no anaesthesia is used. Even when performed under anaesthesia on older children, the recovery entails weeks of pain and discomfort.

The procedure is also dangerous. Between 1988 and 2014, there were 22,000 harms recorded by the NHS resulting circumcision. They included scarring and full penis amputation. In 2011, nearly a dozen infant boys were treated for life-threatening haemorrhage, shock or sepsis as a result of circumcision at a single children's hospital in Birmingham. At least three babies have bled to death from circumcision in the UK since 2009: Celian Noumbiwe, Angelo Ofori-Mintah, and Goodluck Caubergs.

Between 2012 and 2022, the General Medical Council (GMC) dealt with 39 complaints relating to 30 doctors regarding circumcisions. The complaints include incidents in which children's penises were left deformed and babies required blood transfusions.

Any claims of marginal health benefits of circumcision are extremely contested. No national medical, paediatric, surgical or urological society recommends routine circumcision of all boys as a health intervention. There is now growing concern among doctors that existing ethical principles of non-therapeutic childhood surgery should no longer include an exception for non-therapeutic circumcision.

62% of Brits would support a law prohibiting the circumcision of children for non-medical reasons. Only 13% would oppose it.

There is very limited regulation of non-therapeutic circumcision in the UK. We do not know how many such procedures are performed annually or the degree of harm, as there is no requirement for any follow up or audit and the boys themselves are too young to complain.

It is now being recognised more widely that non-therapeutic religious and cultural circumcision is a breach of children's rights. We want to see the same protections for girls' bodily autonomy extended to boys.

Take action!

1. Write to your MP

Ask your MP to support an end to non-consensual religious genital cutting

2. Share your story

Tell us why you support this campaign, and how you are personally affected by the issue. You can also let us know if you would like assistance with a particular issue.

3. Join the National Secular Society

Become a member of the National Secular Society today! Together, we can separate religion and state for greater freedom and fairness.

Latest updates

Boys face serious complications from circumcision, complaints show

Boys face serious complications from circumcision, complaints show

Posted: Thu, 19 Jan 2023 13:25

Dozens of children are suffering life-threatening, painful and permanent complications from religious circumcisions performed by doctors, the National Secular Society can reveal.

The General Medical Council (GMC), which regulates doctors in the UK, dealt with 39 complaints relating to 30 doctors regarding circumcisions between 2012 and 2022, according to information seen by the NSS in a Freedom of Information disclosure.

The complaints include incidents in which children's penises were left deformed and babies required blood transfusions.

Many of the circumcisions on babies and children are thought to have been performed for religious and cultural reasons only and were not medically necessary.

Babies and children suffer pain, bleeding and deformity

Many complaints to the GMC referred to circumcisions which led to excessive bleeding, sometimes requiring hospitalisation and blood transfusions.

One doctor's "substandard" circumcision resulted in "urinary complications" and "physical deformity" to the child's penis. Another complaint said a botched circumcision required a child to undergo further surgery. In another, a baby needed "specialist intervention" to repair his penis.

In one case a doctor reportedly used "inappropriate restraint techniques", including "using non clinical staff to restrain child patients". The Royal College of Nursing has told the NSS restrictive physical interventions should not be used in non-therapeutic circumstances that are either not an emergency or urgent.

Some complaints referred to patients suffering "excessive pain" or a lack of adequate pain relief.

Other complaints involved doctors using unsterile equipment, and several said patients suffered infections after being circumcised.

One baby reportedly suffered bad burns from a heater or lamp in the room during the procedure.

Some complaints referred to multiple circumcisions performed by the same doctor. The allegations against one doctor related to eight children.

The GMC provided the names of two doctors subject to the complaints who had been struck off after botching circumcisions.

In 2013 a baby was admitted to hospital after being circumcised by Sam Neriman at his "dedicated Circumcision Clinic" in London. A fitness to practise panel found Neriman failed to stop the baby's bleeding effectively before discharging him.

In 2015 Muhamad Siddiqui was struck off following complaints made about four circumcisions he performed on infants as part of his "Mobile Children's Circumcision Service". His repeated failings included performing the procedure in unhygienic conditions and without proper health checks or emergency medical equipment.

In one case, he failed to recognise a baby was having a seizure resulting from a local anaesthetic and therefore did not act immediately to ensure an ambulance was called.

In another, he did not check whether the local anaesthetic was working when the baby screamed during the procedure, and continued to cut his foreskin regardless.

Siddiqui is facing prosecution on 39 charges, including actual bodily harm.

A previous NSS Freedom of Information request revealed eleven boys had been admitted to one hospital in 2011 alone with life threatening haemorrhage or sepsis following circumcision.

The NSS's findings echo concerns raised in 2014 by NHS paediatric surgeon Shiban Ahmed. He claimed some circumcisions in the UK were "barbaric and amateurish" and had resulted in "children [being] maimed for life".

Although proponents of circumcision claim the procedure is safe, the Medical Protection Society, an insurance company for doctors, states it carries "considerable risks and complications".

Many circumcisions 'medically unnecessary'

The GMC does not collect data on which circumcisions are performed for medical reasons, and which are performed for religious or cultural reasons only, with no medical need.

But several of the complaints specify the circumcisions were "religious" or performed at home. Circumcisions would only be performed at home if they were requested for religious or cultural reasons.

Furthermore, the NSS said it is likely many, if not most, of the circumcisions performed on babies and young children were carried out for religious and cultural reasons, rather than out of medical necessity. This is because there is only one medical condition, pathological phimosis, that categorically requires circumcision. This condition is "unusual before five years of age" according to circumcision guidance from the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Ritual circumcisions on boys are most common among Jewish, Muslim and some African Christian communities, where they are often considered a religious obligation.

Complaints filed with the GMC only relate to circumcisions performed by qualified doctors. Many religious and cultural circumcisions in the UK are performed by people without medical qualifications and so are neither regulated nor recorded.

All forms of ritual genital cutting on girls are prohibited in the UK by anti-FGM (female genital mutilation) laws. But religious and cultural circumcision on male babies and children is permitted, including by non-doctors.

In 2015 the High Court ruled that nontherapeutic male circumcision, no matter how competently performed, constitutes "significant harm". The High Court further concluded that to claim male circumcision is less invasive or harmful than some forms of FGM would be "irrational".

In a 2018 YouGov survey, 62% of people in the UK said they would support a law prohibiting the circumcision of children for non-medical reasons.

NSS: 'Protect boys from religious genital cutting'

NSS campaigns officer Dr Alejandro Sanchez said: "These complaints lay bare the dangers of medically unnecessary circumcision in babies and children. It is a myth that circumcision is simple and safe.

"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.

"These findings are almost certainly the tip of the iceberg. They are only the complaints brought against medically trained professionals. The harms caused by non-medically trained individuals, who under the law can also carry out circumcision, hardly bear thinking about.

"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."

Read The Mirror's coverage of these findings

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Experts: “Serious weaknesses” in medical guidance on circumcision

Experts: “Serious weaknesses” in medical guidance on circumcision

Posted: Mon, 25 Jul 2022 10:51

Experts have criticised "serious weaknesses" in medical guidance which permits religious and cultural circumcision on boys.

Professionals in academic, legal and medical fields have called for the UK's largest doctors' union to change their "permissive" stance on non-therapeutic male circumcision on infants and children, in a journal article published this month.

The British Medical Association (BMA) released guidance on non-therapeutic male circumcision of children in 2019 to aid physicians in deciding whether to perform the procedure. The BMA has long claimed to be "neutral" on the ethics of non-therapeutic circumcision on male children. However, the article describes how this claim is inaccurate since the BMA guidance, premised on an "incoherent and impracticable analysis of the child's best interests", is permissive of the practice.

The article said the guidance is a "missed" opportunity to "accurately reflect current ethical, legal, safeguarding, or medical concerns" regarding infant circumcision.

The authors said they are "not aware" of any other non-therapeutic invasive procedures on children involving "significant harm" that the BMA treats as "ethically neutral".

The article raised a number of specific concerns with the BMA guidance, including:

  • The guidance has the effect of tilting parents' personal, religious and cultural preferences for circumcising their child against the child's best interests.

  • The BMA says it is committed to non-discrimination in terms of sex. But the guidance "undermines this commitment by affording differential protection to children on the basis of sex" because it does not apply the same protections afforded to girls from genital cutting (female genital mutilation, or FGM) to boys.

  • The BMA advocates for "increased acceptance into a family or society" as a "strong social or cultural benefit" of circumcision, despite rightly rejecting this argument for female genital cutting.

  • The guidance states without any supportive evidence that male infant circumcision "does not require medical expertise". The article explains how this "contradicts the BMA's own exposition of the numerous clinical, anesthetic and hygiene standards required of a doctor carrying out the procedure." This may mean the BMA is "tacitly accepting that the minimal standards of care for non-doctor circumcisers should be lower than the standards of care for doctors". It called this guidance "disturbing".

  • The BMA says it "cannot envisage a situation where it is ethically acceptable to circumcise a child…who refuses", but does not offer the same ethical judgment on circumcision on neonates who are "even more vulnerable" than children who can speak.

  • The BMA is "inconsistent" in that while it warns that parents "can exert great influence on their child's view of a procedure", it remains silent on the "much more extreme danger" to neonates and very young children who parents want to circumcise.

The article warned that the BMA's guidance would, if applied to female genital cutting, yield the conclusion that cutting healthy tissue from a non-consenting child's vulva "could permissibly be performed if the parents request it for cultural or religious reasons".

It concluded that a "consistent application of widely-accepted medical ethics, safeguarding, legal and human rights principles should result in equal protection for all children from all forms of non-therapeutic genital cutting practices to which they cannot consent".

Secular Medical Forum chair: BMA guidance 'inconsistent and confusing'

Dr Antony Lempert, chair of the National Secular Society's Secular Medical Forum and one of the report's authors, said: "The BMA has produced guidance that is inconsistent, confusing and at times, incoherent, reflecting the deeper, unresolved moral and legal tensions surrounding child genital cutting more generally.

"Childhood ritual male circumcision is an anomaly. There is no other case where the law and medical guidance would countenance such an invasive, painful and often unsafe procedure on a non-consenting minor.

"Instead of circumventing good medical practice so as not to offend religious sensibilities, ethical and legal consistency would strengthen arguments against all ritual genital cutting practices. Ultimately, this would protect boys and girls since advocates of female genital cutting are increasingly emboldened by inconsistent guidance permissive of ritual male cutting."

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