End forced genital cutting

End forced genital cutting

Page 7 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

Law Commission

Religious privilege causing injustice, NSS tells Law Commission

Posted: Wed, 4 Aug 2021 14:23

The National Secular Society has argued that religious privilege creates inconsistencies and unfairness in laws on education, charity, health and animal welfare in response to a consultation.

The NSS has submitted evidence on these issues to the Law Commission, which has sought views on what should be included in its latest programme of recommended legal reforms.

The commission is a statutory independent body that keeps the law of England and Wales under review and recommends reform where it judges that it's needed.

NSS recommendations

The NSS said the commission should consider:

  • Laws requiring collective worship in schools.
  • The provision in charity law which makes 'the advancement of religion' a charitable purpose in its own right.
  • The lack of effective protection for boys in laws on genital cutting.
  • The religious exemption to animal welfare laws that allows non-stun slaughter.
  • Assisted dying law.

Law on collective worship

Sections 70 and 71 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 require that all state-funded schools in England and Wales "shall on each school day take part in an act of collective worship".

Even in schools with no religious designation, the worship must be "wholly or mainly of a Christian character".

The NSS's submission said this law was incompatible with human rights laws and the principle of equality, and opened the door to inappropriate external evangelism in schools.

Charity law

In laws on charity throughout the UK, 'the advancement of religion' is a recognised charitable purpose in its own right.

The NSS's submission said removing this would ensure greater fairness and mitigate the damage that harmful religious organisations cause.

The NSS made the case for removing 'the advancement of religion' as a charitable purpose in a report, For the Public Benefit?, published in 2019.

Religious organisations would still be able to register for charitable status under another recognised charitable purpose, as many already do.

Genital cutting

The NSS's submission called on the commission to consider the disparity between the protections afforded to boys and girls regarding autonomy over their genitals.

It noted that boys are not given explicit protection from non-consensual, medically unnecessary circumcision or other modifications to their genitals.

It said this was incompatible with human rights law and left many at risk of serious harm.

Animal welfare

The society highlighted the religious exemption from animal welfare laws that allows animals to be slaughtered without stunning according to Jewish and Muslim rites.

There is widespread consensus among veterinary and animal welfare groups that it's more humane to stun an animal before slaughter than not to do so.

The NSS argues for the repeal of the religious exemption, and for the labelling of meat from animals subject to non-stun slaughter while the exemption remains in place.

Assisted dying law

The NSS also called on the commission to draft a legal framework for assisted dying, to guide potential legislation.

The society said a disproportionate level of influence is granted to religious groups in debates on assisted dying, and argued that the views of the general public, professionals and relevant organisations should be fairly reflected at policy level.

It said a framework could help to guide the government into formulating compassionate and safe legislation to allow for assisted dying under certain circumstances.

NSS comment

NSS head of policy and research Megan Manson said: "Our reforms identify several significant ways in which religious privilege within the law causes inequality, injustice and harm.

"Deference to religion has helped to create outdated, unfair and often unnecessarily complex laws in these areas. We hope the Law Commission will consider our recommendations as it outlines its next programme for reform."

About the Law Commission's review

  • The Law Commission undertakes a public consultation every few years, with a view to submitting a draft programme of law reform to the lord chancellor.
  • This is the commission's 14th programme of reform. The 13th was submitted in late 2017.

Image: Jarretera / Shutterstock.com.

Discuss on Facebook

Child praying collective worship law

UK quizzed over collective worship law by UN

Posted: Thu, 18 Feb 2021 14:13

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has questioned laws which require collective worship in UK schools after the National Secular Society raised the issue.

The CRC asked what steps the UK is taking to repeal laws requiring daily acts of worship in schools, as part of its periodic examination of children's human rights in the UK.

The committee monitors the progress of member states' implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The CRC asked the UK to describe the measures it had taken to "repeal legal provisions for compulsory attendance at collective worship in publicly funded schools", and to ensure children can "independently exercise the right to withdraw from religious observance".

The UK is the only Western democracy to legally impose worship in publicly funded schools. Parents have a right to withdraw their children from collective worship, but children cannot withdraw themselves.

The NSS highlighted the issue of collective worship in a submission to the CRC in November.

The CRC also asked what measures the UK is taking to:

  • Ensure relationships and sex education is LGBT-inclusive. The NSS's submission raised concerns about inadequate access to comprehensive RSE.
  • Ensure girls' access to safe abortion services in Northern Ireland. The NSS said girls in NI are "still struggling" to access abortion services, despite the decriminalisation of abortion in 2019.
  • Prevent cases of female genital mutilation and "unnecessary medical or surgical treatment of intersex children". But it did not raise the issue of non-therapeutic circumcision on boys. The NSS's submission urged the CRC to "extend its scrutiny" to this area.
  • Integrate human rights education into school curricula and teacher training programmes. The NSS has repeatedly called for a stronger focus on human rights in citizenship education.

NSS comment

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "It's good to see the CRC defending children's right not to have religious rituals imposed on them, and their right to inclusive relationships and sex education.

"For too long, religious interference in education has undermined the rights to education, equality and freedom of religion or belief. The UK must take the CRC's requests seriously and urgently address these issues.

"But it's disappointing that the CRC has overlooked infant boys in its scrutiny of non-therapeutic genital cutting. All children, regardless of sex, should have equal rights to bodily autonomy and must be protected from painful, permanent and dangerous religious or cultural procedures done to them without their consent."

Testimonies in NSS submission

The NSS included testimonies from children and parents affected by the collective worship law in its submission.

One contributor, who was forced to pray in school, said: "Even at a young age I knew religion wasn't for me. That was my choice to make. It's not up to the state to force religion on anyone. Doing so is a breach of basic human rights."

Notes

  • Every state that has ratified the convention is required to report to the CRC on how it is fulfilling its obligations. This allows the committee to assess what progress a state is making in implementing the convention. This reporting process happens once every five years.
  • The UK's response to the CRC's list of issues is due on 15th February 2022.

More information