End forced genital cutting

End forced genital cutting

Page 8 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


NSS urges rethink of laissez-faire approach to male genital cutting

Posted: Wed, 5 Aug 2020 10:32

The National Secular Society has urged the children's commissioner for England to encourage child protection agencies and the government to rethink their approach to male circumcision.

In a letter to Anne Longfield, the NSS has said all children should be protected from non-therapeutic genital cutting, regardless of the religion, belief or traditions of their parents.

The letter comes in light of an acclaimed recent academic article which argued that the UK's legal approach to male genital cutting was "indefensible" and "must be changed" to protect children.

Contents of NSS letter

In the letter, the NSS said:

  • Forced genital cutting of boys is "an irreversible, gross violation of their human rights" which is "largely dismissed as inconsequential or falsely claimed to have therapeutic value";
  • Children, and particularly young infants, are incapable of consenting to medically unnecessary and harmful procedures;
  • The right to practice religion under article nine of the European Convention on Human Rights is a qualified right, which is subject to the "rights and freedoms of others";
  • The permissive attitude to forced genital cutting on boys is in breach of the UN convention on the rights of the child. The convention recommends respect for children's rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and advises that traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children should be abolished.

NSS comment

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "The children's commissioner has a vital role to play in ensuring children's best interests are properly considered.

"We're therefore urging her to use her position to help to tackle a widespread and significant violation of many children's basic rights. Children should have the ability to grow up in their own bodies and make their own decisions about altering them.

"Child safeguarding must take precedence over adults' wishes to express their beliefs through the cutting of children's genitals."

Support for change

The NSS's letter also highlighted growing criticism of the current laissez-faire approach to male circumcision:

  • Recent court rulings in the UK have recognised that the best interests of children would best be guaranteed by deferring any operation until they were old enough to participate in the decision-making process.
  • In 2018 the Child Rights International Network, an advocacy group, called the ritual circumcision of infant males for non-medical reasons a "violation of bodily integrity" which "unnecessarily" exposes children to risks.
  • A joint statement by the Nordic children's ombudsmen in September 2013 condemned non-therapeutic infant circumcision as violating fundamental medical-ethical principles.
  • In January 2015, the head of the family division of the High Court in England and Wales said non-therapeutic infant male circumcision caused "significant harm" to boys.
  • International human rights bodies such as the Council of Europe, doctors, medical ethicists and lawyers are also among those who have recently questioned the historic carte blanche afforded to infant male circumcision.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay.

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UK’s approach to male genital cutting is “indefensible”, says expert

Posted: Fri, 3 Jul 2020 11:55

The UK's legal approach to male genital cutting is "indefensible" and "must be changed" to protect children, a legal expert has argued in an acclaimed academic article.

Dr Kai Möller, associate professor of law at the London School of Economics, said genital cutting is wrong "as a matter of principle" in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies.

His intervention has been called "the most important legal and philosophical article on this topic to come out in years" by a fellow academic with extensive expertise in the field.

Möller criticises arguments that suggest male genital cutting (often called 'circumcision') and female genital cutting (often called 'female genital mutilation' or FGM) should be treated differently based on a child's sex.

He writes: "The currently dominant view, according to which the common law creates an exception for the case of male genital cutting, has been shown to be arbitrary and indefensible."

He says both male and female genital cutting should be rejected based on children's rights to have their bodily integrity "respected and protected".

'Religious freedom' arguments

Möller says the argument that male genital cutting should be allowed because it is often performed for religious reasons while female genital cutting has no religious basis is "unconvincing".

He says neither form of genital cutting can be justified from the perspective of religious freedom because the "right to manifest one's religion can, and in some scenarios must, be limited when this is necessary to protect the rights of others".

He also notes that female genital cutting is "in many contexts seen as a religious duty".

"Insufficient" justification for treating male genital cutting differently

Möller says legal justifications for treating female and male genital cutting differently which have been provided by courts are "insufficient".

In the UK, female genital cutting is a criminal offence while male genital cutting is in principle legal and may even be ordered by a court, he says.

Möller says some forms of male genital cutting are more harmful than forms of female genital cutting that are prohibited. In 2015 a judge observed that some practices considered to be illegal FGM, "for example, pricking, piercing and incising", are "much less invasive than male circumcision".

By implication, he says, male genital cutting "must be treated as a criminal act under the ordinary provisions of the criminal law".

Other key arguments

Möller challenges the argument that male genital cutting confers health benefits whereas female genital cutting does not, saying there is an "obvious disproportionality between harms and benefits" in the case of male genital cutting.

He says arguments that female genital cutting is less acceptable than male genital cutting because the former is done in order to oppress women are "highly controversial".

He argues many women who have undergone female genital cutting dispute this claim, and that "any argument that relies on the idea of patriarchal oppression works only if we accept that there is something wrong with male and female genital cutting in the first place."


Brian Earp, a researcher at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, called Möller's article a "must read" and "the most important legal & philosophical article on this topic to come out in years" in a recent Facebook post.

Dr Earp has also criticised non-consensual genital cutting, including in speeches to National Secular Society conferences in 2018 and 2019.

NSS head of policy and research Megan Manson said: "This article makes a solid case for treating religious and cultural genital cutting in infants and children as impermissible under UK law, regardless of a child's sex.

"Dr Möller dispels many of the myths and presumptions that have led to the current inconsistency in how we protect the bodily integrity of girls and boys. He makes it clear that religious beliefs, no matter how strongly held, can never justify the permanent and painful alteration of a child's genitals, regardless of their sex.

"Policy-makers concerned with protecting the rights of children must take note."

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay.

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