Grace Adeleye has been convicted of manslaughter after a baby boy died following a circumcision which she carried out on him at home.
Last year a court in Cologne, Germany ruled that there was criminal liability for those carrying out this procedure for non-clinical reasons on boys who were below the age of consent. The German parliament has now passed a law Allowing ritual circumcision of infant boys.
The position in British law is unclear. It seems that there is a presumption that it is legal. By contrast female circumcision is statutorily illegal under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. It is noteworthy that the female procedure is described as mutilation, but this term is never applied in the case of males.
Cutting off a baby’s foreskin without medical reason is just as much mutilation as it is to cut the labia of a girl. The fact that people do this without anaesthetic, in non-sterile environments and without any control of their qualifications or skill worsens the situation.
Female genital mutilation became illegal in Britain in 2004, but there is no clarity about whether male genital mutilation for cultural or religious reasons is legal or not.
Just because something has been done for centuries does not mean that it is alright. Cutting off part of a child’s body without any medical reason is obviously a serious assault. Where this is done in unsatisfactory conditions it represents a significant risk to the life and well being of the child apart from any questions of longer term changes in that person’s life without their informed consent. To argue that circumcised men do not generally claim that they have been disadvantaged by it is not valid. It is self evident that having been circumcised as a baby it is impossible for adult males to know whether their enjoyment of sex has been reduced by the de-sensitisation resulting from the absence of a protective cover to the glans.
It is quite right that female genital mutilation is a much more complicated issue than it is for males. This is because there is a wide range of procedures from limited labia trimming to full excision of the clitoris and extensive labia removal. The British law prevents any vaginal surgery for non-medical reasons. It must be asked why there is not similar protection for males. I do not actually support specific laws prohibiting assault on the genitalia. These practices should be treated like any other abuse of a child. The permanence of a surgical procedure makes it a more serious assault than many others.
The claim by some that the procedure has hygiene benefits might possibly have had some basis in antiquity, but it does not in 21st century Britain. In fact the hygiene argument seems to be a modern one that is not supported by evidence of benefit.
Male circumcision pre-dates Christianity and Judaism. We cannot know the reasons that it was first done. For Jews it is a religious obligation based on the supposed covenant between God and Abraham. No scriptural indication is given of why God would want men to have their foreskins removed. In the Abrahamic religions man is supposed to be made in the image of God. If God himself has a foreskin why did he want his followers to remove theirs?
Those who accept the evolution of humans as an established fact will recognise that the foreskin is present because it has a purpose. It might be argued that the protection provided by clothing has removed the evolutionary requirement for the foreskin. Well OK. If that is your view make that decision for yourself as an adult. By the way, just in case anybody reading this thinks that evolution might not be right because it is only a theory I would say that the evidence for the theory of evolution is just as compelling as the evidence for the theory of gravity.
Grace Adeleye, who has just been convicted of manslaughter, is a Christian of Nigerian origin. Male circumcision is not required by Christian churches although it is practised by Copts. In fact Saints Peter and Paul wrote against circumcision. It seems likely that in this case circumcision is a cultural practice rather than a religious duty.
Hardening of the glans caused by circumcision does seem to reduce the transmission of HIV by circumcised men, but it does not prevent it and the use of condoms by HIV positive men is a very much greater protection. It would certainly be very wrong to think that it was OK to have unprotected sex with an HIV positive man because he was circumcised.
These mutilations should be treated as criminal assault. A baby is not born with a religion so I do not accept the legitimacy of religious obligation. However, since religions have such a strong hold on people an exception could be granted for religious requirement provided the procedure was only conducted by practitioners who could be held to account if they failed to effectively minimise the possibility of complications by being well qualified and using proper clinical practice.