Friday, 20 May 2011

Circumcision and the Law

A really interesting story emerged out of the USA this week, as San Francisco announced that a measure to ban circumcision will appear on the ballot in November (for Brits, think Proposition 8 - it's a similar process, but city-based rather than state-based). This marks the first time that there has been a public vote on the issue of circumcision - a hot political topic in the US where the practise among males is common.

In the UK, it's an issue that I've never been able to get passionate about but I've detected in the last couple of years a shift in the mood and this is increasingly becoming a talking point.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that if the measure passes, circumcision would be prohibited among males under the age of 18. The practice would become a misdemeanor offence punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. There would be no religious exemptions. Stern stuff.

The measure and wider debate hinge on the issue of consent. Given circumcision is typically conducted at a young age, it is the parents who consent on behalf of a child - for a range of reasons - and thus the child is 'mutilated' for life. For many Americans, having a cut cock is seen as more attractive, more hygienic and even healthier - with mixed data about circumcision and HIV transmission. For religious groups, circumcision is an important part of their culture and so the law intervening here, is a legal attack on religion and expression as well as arguably, an individuals private life. Yet, all of these concerns would not stand if we were talking about 'female genital mutilation'. This is a very complex and very real challenge for law.

In Britain the religious angle was explored in the comedy film East is East, exploring the clash between 'western' and 'muslim' values in Bradford in the 1970s:

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Anonymous said...

But FGM *is* a rather different issue. It's not even slightly
physically equivalent to male circumcision, or culturally for that matter.

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