Saturday, July 21, 2012

Circumcision is an affront to decent human behaviour - Catherine Bennett

Parental rights have not, opponents of male circumcision often point out, been allowed to trump those of young girls in the case of its related barbarity – female genital mutilation – which is officially banned and denounced, even in its least-devastating manifestations, as an inexcusable assault on a child's physical integrity. Neither the prevalence of FGM nor the argument that prohibition will only force it underground has dissuaded the World Health Organisation from unequivocal condemnation. "FGM," it says, "is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women."

The extent of this cutting, which "has no health benefits", involves removal of "healthy and normal female genital tissue" and is associated with ideas about "unclean" sexual parts, is immaterial. "It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death."

And the genital mutilation of a boy? The WHO has a separate, notably upbeat fact sheet about that. "Male circumcision is one of the oldest and most common surgical procedures worldwide," it notes, respectfully, "and is undertaken for many reasons: religious, cultural, social and medical." Here, it finds, the removal of healthy, normal genital tissue and violation of a child's rights and physical integrity for reasons often associated with sexual cleanliness can be a positive boon, now that circumcision may – or may not, given risk compensation – help contain HIV. For neonates, the WHO commends the Mogen clamp method and a local anaesthetic, adding that "a pacifier soaked in sucrose solution has been found to be effective in reducing fussiness in infants".

Catherine Bennett

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