Iceland’s government has proposed a new law to ban circumcision for non-medical reasons. Could the UK follow suit, and if so, what are the implications for human rights?
If the Icelandic law passes, anyone guilty of “removing part or all of [a child’s] sexual organs” other than for medical reasons could face up to six years in prison. The proposal is the first of its kind in Europe and would prohibit, among other things, male circumcision for religious reasons.
Advocates of the new law say that it is necessary to protect children’s rights and have made comparisons with female genital mutilation (FGM), which is already outlawed in most European countries. However, religious leaders have called it an attack on religious freedom.
Buoyed by the proposals in Iceland, anti-circumcision campaigners have called on the British Medical Association (BMA) to support a ban on male infant circumcision in the UK.
Image credit: Unsplash.com
Male circumcision is important to both Judaism and Islam, and leaders from both religions have strongly criticised the proposed ban. A spokesperson from Milah UK claims the procedure is only carried out by highly trained and regulated practitioners. It is wrong, he says, to equate the practice with FGM as there is no long-term negative impact on the child, unlike FGM which is known to cause serious medical complications.
The Nordic Jewish Communities also condemned the ban on “the most central rite” of the Jewish faith. Imam Ahmad Seddeeq of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Iceland, says male circumcision has been “practised for centuries in Islam” and is “deeply rooted in religious traditions.”
Image credit: Unsplash.com.
YouGov recently conducted a poll which showed that 62% of Brits would support a ban on infant circumcision in the UK. Only 13% would oppose such a measure, with 25% remaining undecided. London recorded the highest rates of opposition, versus the Midlands and Wales which had the least. NHS advice on male circumcision is that “the risks associated with circumcisions when carried out by qualified and experienced doctors are small.”
Although support for a ban appears to be strong, the large number of undecided voters suggests that the debate (in the UK at least) is still in its infancy. However, this could change if the ban proposed in Iceland is passed into law.
Image credit: Unsplash.com.
There is very little clarity as to how religious circumcision is to be treated under the Human Rights Convention.
The practice clearly engages the right to manifest one’s religious beliefs, as guaranteed by Article 9 of the Human Rights Convention, and possibly the right to a private and family life in Article 8. However, these rights are qualified and may be restricted in certain circumstances.
In particular, proponents of a ban on infant circumcision argue that it is necessary to ensure the protection of the rights of children. Although there is no ‘right to protection of one’s bodily integrity’ in the Human Rights Convention, it has been suggested that such a right might be expressed via Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) or Article 5 (the right to liberty and security).
There are no clear answers at the moment, but if the ban in Iceland becomes law a challenge under the Human Rights Convention may not be far behind.