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If children are dying why not just outlaw the practice?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

  • Why does any country tolerate multiple, easily avoidable, deaths?
  • Why does any country not deal harshly with parents who put their children in harm’s way?
  • Why are parents allowed to deliberately harm their children?

The deaths in South Africa are not just the occasional mishap. 20 one month, 30 the next, often more.

Regrettably, it’s not as though this is anything new. Normally, when children are reported as being injured or killed, ‘officials’ from tribal leaders to UN chiefs would be rushing to say how dreadful it is. We’d hear phrases like “we shall learn from this” or “this tragedy must be prevented in the future.”

But not for boys. Nor for men. And especially not for genital mutilation⇩1We refer to non-therapeutic and non-curative circumcision of both males and females as ‘genital mutilation’ because that is the international language originally established by the World Health Organisation..

A quick sampling of news, just on South Africa, includes a BBC article of 2010; Mail & Guardian and the UK Telegraph in 2013; the UK Guardian in 2014; the U.S. Washington Post in 2015 (where even good news is a reflection of bad news); IOL in 2016; Leadership, Nigeria in 2018; News24 in 2018, Mail & Guardian earlier in 2019. And now the UK’s BBC has yet another report that things go terribly wrong, with some initiates dying or left disfigured from a botched circumcision.

“There are illegal initiation schools mushrooming,’’ [Mamkeli Ngam, spokesman for the Eastern Cape Traditional Affairs Department] added, in spite of numerous government safety campaigns about safe circumcision.

Leadership, Nigeria

But it’s not just ‘tribal practices’. Just as in United States, children die in hospital from being abused in this manner (approximately 119 infant boys die from circumcision each year in the U.S.). Despite the best wishes of some parliamentarians, there is no such thing as a safe circumcision.

Putting hope in one group or another, moving from one experimental method to another, does not work. Only one thing is known to work for sure: leave a healthy penis alone.

Even when a man makes the decision for himself, far too many regret it later in life.

There can be an argument made for putting a child at risk, where there is a greater risk — even a greater social risk — if the child is not put at risk. This happens with some vaccines, for example, where a tiny fraction of recipients might suffer but if the vaccination is not given, society as a whole is put at risk of an epidemic. It’s a matter of reasonable risk: what will lead to the best chances for the child in the long term.

Chopping off bits of genitals does not come into the category of reasonable risk. It doesn’t matter if the child is female or male. The religion of their parents doesn’t matter. The child has a right to bodily integrity and to a consideration of their safety and future.

As the political party Justice for Men & Boys pointed out, treating females as badly as males, would not be acceptable.

Let’s do a gender switch on the first two sentences, and see how that reads:
“Female Genital Mutilation is steeped in tradition that has been passed down through many generations. It offers a profound cultural connection with the past.”
..and if the right to practise FGM is protected by South Africa’s constitution, I’ll eat my hat.

Mike Buchanan, J4MB

The constitution of South Africa is clear: the people are South Africans first, members of various tribes and cultures, second. South Africa’s constitution protects it’s various cultures. It does not protect those cultures where those cultures interfere with the protection of South Africa’s citizens.

Although the tribal ‘initiations’ are often carried out by men, the social pressure from women — keenly felt by any boy beginning to enter manhood — is not minimal. This is related in a novel — banned in some places — that highlighted the plight of men with a maimed penis.

“A short, fat nurse came into our ward and stood there looking at us … She greeted us in a scornful voice and we responded with reluctance – we being the two patients opposite me and myself …

“The short nurse broke into a mocking song … The song she sang was the same ‘Somagwaza’ that is meant to be sung during the different phases of the circumcision ceremony. The verse she chose was particularly significant, for it is the one that reports to the mythical Somagwaza that the cowards among them have chickened out … impressing on us our invalidity – the manhood rejects that we had become by fleeing to the hospital and the sub-human status that we were about to assume in society as a result.

“Her reaction might seem extreme, but it was typical of the mockery and censure that we could expect to encounter outside.”

Circumcision: A sharp twist of the knife and all is lost

There is a great deal of pressure put upon males. UNESCO have spent more on promoting genital mutilation of males than they have even on trying to put a stop to female genital mutilation. With some societies, this is a very confusing message: why should girls not be allowed the rite of passage to womanhood, when boys are allowed? The only way to stop female genital mutilation is to be consistent and non-sexist: genital mutilation needs to be discouraged regardless of race, age, sex, and any other consideration.

Young unemployed black males, poorly educated at state schools and under-parented in fatherless households, without the prospect of a decent job or of ever earning enough to pay lobolo or for a home, might cherish initiation as their only source of significant social validation.

Mail & Guardian

Some feminists might argue that such rituals bestow on initiates a lifelong sense of superiority and entitlement with regard to women and Nelson Mandela relates, for example, that initiates in his area expected sexual goodwill from girls after their ordeal. However, the most influential feminist body in the world, the United Nations, actively promotes genital mutilation throughout Africa.

There are claims of benefits but these are not backed up by the majority of research and medical opinion. At least a decade ago, people were pointing out that circumcising men in Africa is likely to increase HIV and AIDS. Perhaps, sickeningly, that is why it is being done.


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