End forced genital cutting

End forced genital cutting

Page 6 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

Protect all children from genital cutting, international NGO urges

Protect all children from genital cutting, international NGO urges

Posted: Thu, 5 May 2022 12:13

An international council of experts has called on the United Nations to protect all children from religious and cultural genital cutting.

In a report supported by the National Secular Society, the International NGO Council on Genital Autonomy (INGOCGA) has called on the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to work towards "full, equal protection of all minors" from non-therapeutic genital cutting until they are able to make their own decisions about their bodies.

Both female genital cutting (FGM) and male circumcision are frequently performed for religious reasons.

The report said legal measures against genital cutting upon children have "not happened uniformly" and leave large populations of children "wholly unprotected". While it is generally accepted in legislation that genital cutting of girls is unacceptable in all circumstances, circumcision of male children is "almost wholly unrestrained", it said.

The report said the view that genital cutting of a child is a legitimate exercise of parents' religious freedom is a "misconception", as it violates children's own rights to bodily autonomy and freedom to choose a religion or belief identity. It also said the right to manifest beliefs is qualified, and should be restricted if it violates the rights and freedoms of another person.

The report highlighted the many possible harms resulting from circumcision, including pain, trauma, sexual dysfunction and serious complications including death. It added that male circumcision "provides no benefits sufficient to justify it under normal circumstances."

It said all medically unnecessary child genital cutting "violates several provisions" of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, including the right to protection from all forms violence, the elimination of traditional practices harmful to children, and the child's own right to freedom of conscience, belief and religion.

INGOCGA's recommendations to the CRC included:

  • Recommending state parties to the Convention "adopt or amend legislation" with a view to eliminating child genital cutting.

  • An inquiry on all forms of medically unnecessary genital cutting of children and "means to eradicate these practices".

  • A resolution that non-therapeutic genital cutting is a breach of children's rights under the Convention, and that member states which permit male genital cutting on children while taking steps to eliminate FGM and intersex genital cutting "breach the male child's right to freedom from discrimination".

  • Giving priority to regular data collection on medically unnecessary genital cutting.

Report co-author Dr Antony Lempert, who is also chair of the NSS Secular Medical Forum, said: "Genital cutting causes often permanent damage to the genitals, violates the child's right to freedom of religion and belief, and fails to extend to the child the minimum personal rights afforded to adults. As such, it constitutes a harm that is neither justifiable within a modern human rights framework, nor authorised by any qualified rights of the parents.

"The disparity in the legal approach to female and male genital cutting is, from a rights and ethical perspective, an unsatisfactory situation, resulting in unequal treatment of vulnerable citizens, discriminatory legislation offering unequal gender protection, and serious breaches of the rights of millions of children annually.

"We therefore urge the CRC to work to ensure all children, whatever their sex, are equally protected from all forms of non-therapeutic genital cutting, whatever the religious or cultural justification".

The NSS is holding a free online event on June 8 to mark the launch of the report – find and more and book your place.


  • INGOCGA was established to "promote the consistent application of existing human rights principles that every child is an independent holder of rights, and that all children everywhere should be equally protected from medically unnecessary genital cutting to which they are incapable of consenting."

  • INGOCGA includes representatives from four nations and works collaboratively with major national and international human rights NGOs. NSS is a member organisation.

Image: esudroff, Pixabay.

NSS raises “serious” free speech concerns in press regulator code

NSS raises “serious” free speech concerns in press regulator code

Posted: Mon, 4 Apr 2022 13:29

A press regulator's standards code may restrict free speech and distort reporting through pro-religion bias, the National Secular Society has warned.

The NSS has said it is "extremely concerned" that the standards code and guidance of the Independent Monitor for the Press (IMPRESS) will "unnecessarily restrict freedom of speech regarding religion".

IMPRESS is consulting on revisions to its standards code, which aims to protect the public from "unethical news reporting". All IMPRESS members must adhere to the code.

IMPRESS members include the Islamic publications 5Pillars UK and The Muslim News.

FGM and religion

A new clause in the guidance says publishers should "avoid conflating religious, ideological or cultural practices or beliefs" and should acknowledge when there is "controversy" about how a practice or belief is described.

It gives the example of female genital mutilation (FGM), which it says is "often incorrectly written about as a religious practice when it is, in fact, a cultural practice".

In its submission to the consultation, the NSS said it had "serious concerns" about this guidance, calling it "ill-conceived, inaccurate and highly likely to result in distorted reporting and censorship on religious issues".

It said whether a practice or belief is 'religious', 'ideological' or 'cultural' is "never straightforward". This includes FGM which is sometimes practised for religious reasons. The NSS cited examples of Islamic schools which encourage the practice.

It said: "Preventing journalists from pointing out that religion is often an important motivation behind FGM not only distorts the truth – it also undermines efforts to end this atrocious form of violence against women and girls by understanding and tackling the root motivations".

It said the guidance "will be used to try and silence negative stories regarding religion".

The guidance says if there is doubt as to whether a practice or belief is religious, ideological or cultural, "publishers may wish to seek appropriate guidance from relevant experts before publishing the content".

The NSS warned this may prompt journalists to approach religious leaders for advice, who are "often strongly motivated to portray their religion in a positive light" and may not provide an objective viewpoint regarding controversial practices and beliefs.

'Burn in hell'

The guidance says publishers "must not encourage hatred or abuse against any group based on their protected characteristics".

But it has an exception for "threats" against certain groups to "burn in hell", which it said "should not be seen as language that encourages hatred".

The NSS said it "cannot comprehend" why the code permits publishers to say gay people or other groups should "burn in hell", but does not allow publishers to say FGM is a religious practice.

It said a threat to 'burn in hell' is "an extremely strong expression of hatred" and would "exempt religious forms of hate speech where other forms would be rightly prohibited".

Many incidents involving religious threats to 'burn in hell' have been investigated by the police as hate crime.

The NSS expressed concerns about other aspects of the code and guidance which may censor reporting around religion, including an implication that the terms "extremist Christians" and "radical Islamists" may breach the code.

It welcomed aspects of the guidance that acknowledged the importance of free speech, including the freedom to criticise religion, but said other clauses in the guidance "may conflict" with this and "must be addressed to ensure freedom of speech on topics that engage religion or belief".

NSS comment

NSS head of policy and research Megan Manson said: "News publishers should never publish with the intention of encouraging hatred or abuse. We all have a responsibility to help foster tolerance and cohesion in our society – not least news publishers.

"But the IMPRESS code and guidance will potentially distort or censor reporting on issues relating to religion. This will make it harder to hold religious organisations to account when they themselves encourage hatred or abuse, or otherwise cause harm."

IMPRESS's consultation closes on Friday. Its new code will be published this summer.

Image: fancycrave1, Pixabay.

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