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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Genital Mutilation – Time to Man Up

The Crown Prosecution Service in the UK has come under fire in the last two weeks for failing to secure any convictions for Female Genital Mutilation, despite laws implemented over 29 years ago to deal with the crime.

Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM as it is often called, varies in type. The  most severe form of FGM involves cutting and scaring of the external female sex organs, to leave a small hole for urine and menstrual blood to pass. Some documented cases have found women with holes as small as a pinhole.

No wonder then that top medical professionals in England were infuriated by the recent decision to prosecute just one doctor for suspected FGM (on a woman), despite there being an estimated 144 complaints to police about the practice in the last two to three years. That anger only intensified further when it was revealed that the head of the CPS, Alison Saunders, would be required to come before a committee in the House of Commons to explain the lack of progress on this front – the conviction began to look more and more like a way of appeasing the government.


Despite the political overtones of this conviction, it is incredibly difficult to get witnesses to testify to FGM.  FGM is usually carried out on girls, often arranged by close family members and so children are therefore unlikely to come forward (either through fear or loyalty). Another problem arises when the child is a foreign national. Many at risk girls are from North African families which may sometimes mean that their immigration status is unclear and therefore potentially prevents prosecution under current law. The time period when FGM takes place can also be hard to ascertain. What is clear though, is that FGM is a form of control by men over women, and it is a form of violence, too. Even the term Female Genital Mutilation conjures up the horrific nature of this act, which quite rightly incites an angry reaction from the majority. And yet, no one balks when we talk about circumcision.

There is a strong line of defense whenever you broach the subject of circumcision. They usually include the following: the baby doesn’t remember, it doesn’t hurt (the foreskin is so small at that age, after all), it’s more hygienic and it’s my right as a practicing Jew or Muslim. And yet none of these arguments are defensible.  

Google “Psychological trauma of circumcision” and what comes up is a wave of articles, which, interestingly, don’t all distinguish FGM from circumcision. Indeed, FGM is often referred to as female circumcision. There are several groups advocating against the practice of male circumcision, including Intact America, Norm UK and Doctors Opposing Circumcision. Their research turns the outdated biblical notions of foreskin removal on their, well, heads.

Male babies who have been circumcised experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), from the severe pain – the foreskin may look small to you, but it’s all relative on a newborn. To a newborn, it’s more than big enough. Babies will also feel terror, helplessness and later on, some experience night terrors, too. The research suggests that the circumcision itself can also cause problems into adulthood. 

The hygiene argument has also been proven to be unfounded – there is no tangible evidence which shows that circumcision itself prevents disease. The reality? Good personal hygiene does.  As for perceived religious rights, we have to ask ourselves – when do we ever have the right to physically hurt another human being without their consent?

FGM also suffers with many of its own misconceptions, some similar to male circumcision. Believed for many years to be more hygienic, that it preserved fertility and made women more attractive, there has been pressure on mothers for a long time to ensure their daughters are circumcised so that they will be able to get a husband. The physical act of mutilation on both boys and girls is a deeply ingrained cultural one, which is perhaps why it is so hard to tackle.

Male circumcision plays a vital role in Judaism. As a Jew myself, with a son, who has a Muslim father, being a lone anti-circumcision voice in a family filled with missing foreskins, was always going to be a challenge. But I did not relent, quietly and gently stating my case, armed with all the evidence I could gather, to show that circumcision was not going to happen to our little boy. I won the day, but I had a choice. Not everyone does. In a telling news item, a woman in Israel has just been fined for refusing to the same thing, and will continue to be fined, until she agrees to let her son be mutilated. It is this kind of cultural and systematic thinking which is the root of the problem, when we talk about male circumcision. In any other setting, it would be child abuse.

The controversial practice of Metzitzah B’Peh would certainly fall under that definition in the UK, and perhaps also in the US. This custom allows, with the consent of the parents, for the circumcising rabbi to bend down and suck the residual blood from the baby’s penis upon having his foreskin removed. It seems that some Rabbis do not even wait for consent, so eager are they to indulge in what could be described as a form of pedophilia.

And yet despite the obvious cultural and physical similarities these two practices share, we still live in a world where FGM is viewed as a crime, and male circumcision as a health benefit. 

I see no difference between these two monstrous practices, but I am often comforted by the fact that Israel’s founder Theodor Hertzl, actively resisted his son being circumcised. Sometimes, we must think outside the boundaries. 

Ongoing  series relating to Family Law written by Natasha Phillips / Researching Reform Website | Twitter. Edited by Anthony Gonzalez for Child Quest International 

Disclaimer: the posting of this guest content does not define endorsement, agreement, nor disagreement by Child Quest International. The information has been provided to be informative from a parent and researchers first-hand perspective.

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