Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Our law permits religiously-motivated violence to infants

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-06-03

Non-therapeutic male circumcision is discussed in a recent Australian Policy Online report.

Personally, I’d see non-therapeutic male circumcision in the same category as intimate or genital piercing, and covered by a section of the Summary Offences Amendment (Tattooing and Body Piercing) Bill 2008 (Vic) Division 6:

44(2): A body piercer must not perform body piercing on the genitalia, anal region, perineum or nipples of a person under the age of 18 years, whether or not consent has been given to the body piercing.

It’s worth noting that the Current Issues Brief No. 3, 2008 from the Research Service of the Victorian Parliament discusses the Victorian bill, and regulations in other Australian jurisdictions, the paper does not even contain the word circumcision.

The paper also notes circumstances covered by other bills:

  • Causing injury or serious injury intentionally, recklessly or negligently, and endangerment offences under sections 16, 17, 18, 23 and 24 of the Crimes Act 1958; and
  • Female genital mutilation under section 32 of the Crimes Act.

Some belief systems use the term "circumcision" when genital mutilation is the only realistic term.  Why should the law be sexist?

In the "Purposes" of the bill, the stated intent includes prevention of scarification of those under 18, defined as follows:

scarification means the cutting of the skin of a person to create scar tissue;

Male circumcision, therapeutic or not, certainly creates scar tissue!

The 2008 bill gives reasonable protection for surgeons (presumably to cover therapeutic procedures):

43A (1) Nothing in this Division applies to body piercing performed in good faith—

  • in the course of a regulated health service provided by a registered health practitioner; or
  • in the course of clinical training by a registered student.

In the 2008 bill, it is explicitly stated that "regulated health service" has the same meaning as in the Health Professions Registration Act 2005 (Vic):

regulated health service means a health service usually provided in a regulated health profession

A religious activity is not a health service!

Section 44 makes no bones about intimate piercings of those under 18 – parental consent and/or the wishes of the child simply do not matter.  It is an offence.  Full stop.

Now I have no problem with a religiously-motivated circumcision of an adult.  It’s their problem, and indeed, it’s good for rational society because there is the chance that a firm believer in any faith will not be able to procreate as the result of the circumcision.

Let’s look at the Judaic and Christian so-called logic in particular:

  • A child cannot confirm their religious adherence until they are adolescents, notably 13 for Judaic males.
  • Genital mutilation for religious reasons should surely require the informed consent of the subject as to both the religion and the process.

So, by their own logic, a non-reversible procedure carried out as part of religious adherence should not be carried out on pre-teens – parental consent or not.

It’s really no different from Munchausens By Proxy, although the perpetrators are not clinically insane, even though they are patently irrational (indeed belief with no rational inquiry is regarded as a virtue).

The paper published at the APO comes originally from the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute and includes the following (my bolding):

The Institute received the reference from the Commissioner for Children who is a member of the Council of Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality and Morbidity. The Commissioner asked the Institute to investigate the legal issues relating to the circumcision of males under the age of majority. The Commissioner was concerned that some procedures, when performed without medical indication and without the competent consent of the child, may traverse the rights of children.

Circumcision satisfies the legal definition of both wounding and assault.

Young children, infants in particular, may be unable to communicate consent and would almost certainly not be able to understand the nature of a circumcision procedure. Thus infants, and most young children, will not be able to provide consent that might make a circumcision lawful.

Section 2A(2)(e) of the Tasmanian Code provides that there is no free agreement when a person: "agrees or submits because he or she is overborne by the nature or position of another person."

No legislation in Tasmania provides a general power for parents to make legal, through their consent or authorisation, what would otherwise be an offence to their children.

Common law cases contain non-binding statements suggesting that a person who circumcises a child is not criminally responsible for the act if the child’s parents consented to, or authorised, the procedure. The basis for this proposition is uncertain.

Would non-therapeutic circumcision of the child of atheists be legal?  Would a jury decide differently based on the religion position of one or both parents?

Where the paper cites arguments in favor of allowing circumcision without consent, those arguments are tortuous, and designed to satisfy the irrational beliefs of powerful religious groups.

It seems to me that any organization that promotes or even accepts the genital mutilation of infants is no better than a child pornography ring, and should be declared an illegal organization.  Actually, there are more parallels with a child abuse network than a child pornography ring.

It also seems to me that prohibiting female "circumcision" while allowing the analogous procedure on a male infant without compelling therapeutic need, is merely enshrining sexism and religious apartheid in law.

It must stop.

See Also:


12 Responses to “Our law permits religiously-motivated violence to infants”

  1. Cindy said

    I’m in the USA and I agree with you, that male circumcision is genital mutilation.
    When more of us stand up and say no more non-medical circumcsions, it will end. It’s much lower in the US, than it was thirty years ago.
    Thanks for your post!

  2. Craig said

    Circumcision is mutilation. The Net is helping to wake America up to this fact.

  3. Frieda said

    I agree! Well written. Please contact the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute and tell them this! They are calling for submissions to their paper so they can clarify the law.

    Religion or “hygiene” should not be an excuse for infant genital modification. It’s time males had the same protection under the law that females do.

  4. […] Our law permits religiously-motivated violence to infants Non-therapeutic male circumcision is discussed in a recent Australian Policy Online report. Personally, I’d see […] […]

  5. Very interesting post, Dave. I have known a Turkish Muslim child who was circumcised at the age of 10 (so presumably had some capacity to consent). I also have Jewish friends who have circumcised their sons shortly after birth. In one case, the parents got a doctor to perform the circumcision, and it was not done correctly (it’s apparently better to use a mohel who is experienced if you are going to circumcised). Then there’s indigenous cultures where circumcision is part of coming of age.

    Certainly, if the law is going to outlaw other analogous practices, then it should make some kind of a stand on circumcision. It’s probably been left alone because nobody wants to open the can of worms, but it’s certainly arguable as the Tasmanian report suggests, that circumcision is an instance of intentionally causing injury to a child.

    I’d suggest that circumcision doesn’t fall under scarification because the intention in scarification is specifically to create scars for decorative or initiatory purposes, whereas the purpose of circumcision is not to create a scar (although it is, of course, one of the consequences).

    One argument for circumcision is that it seems to cut the chance of catching HIV, thus, it may be that if I lived in a country with a very high HIV rate, I would consider circumcising my son.

  6. memeweaver said

    I like your line, Dave, about belief with no rational inquiry being regarded as a virtue by the manifold orthodox believers.

    I can’t understand why anyone would want to change their beautiful baby boy in such a way. They come out perfect as they are. It’s stupid and cruel. And, agreed, should most definitely be stopped. Hope your post travels far.

  7. Dave Bath said

    LE@5 said “I’d suggest that circumcision doesn’t fall under scarification because the intention in scarification is specifically to create scars for decorative or initiatory purposes”

    The primary reason for most circumcisions is an “initiatory purpose”, and the intent is to create a modified body appearance striking enough to be obvious to anyone, and that modification is for social, not medical reasons. If a body modification is carried out for social or aesthetic reasons, it is decorative, not functional, and it is certainly “initiatory”, so seems to tick both the boxes.

  8. I’m circumsised and I like it that way. My experience is that most women like a fireman’s helmet; as one once said to me ‘I want to see his personality!’.

    I’ve also had both my sons circumcised. I think they will thank me for it. Lots of women have told me they prefer it, and nothing is more beneficial to a man’s health than the enthusiastic attentions of a beautiful woman!

  9. Dave Bath said

    Mick Sutcliffe@8

    (Being coy here to try and avoid the spam blitzkreig getting worse).

    Me? Born in 1960 to Xtian parents…. you can guess my state.

    The “aesthetic” argument for or against is not a problem for a consenting adult making an informed choice. There’s little difference here between allowing parents to inflict non-therapeutic circumcision on infants and allowing them to inflict a “Prince Alfred”.

    I can think of one reason women might prefer circumcized males – the reported decrease in sensitivity of the glans probably decreases the response to stimuli, delaying the completion of some tasks, if you get my drift.

    Lot’s of male in-humans express preferences for similar mutilation of women. Less likelyhood of adultery because of pain, less likelyhood of relaxation of muscles in the region….

    And I’d disagree with you about “nothing is more beneficial to a man’s health” (even allowing your description of “beautiful” to refer to substantial things). If I thought otherwise, I wouldn’t have been by choice a single custodial dad for so long (see here for more). It’s loved and being loved that matters, and I get lots of that when staying with daughter and grandson every weekend (garnished with shadenfreude because my ex lives just around the corner from them, yet has approximately nil to do with either). Besides, I’m sure many gay males would disagree about preferred sources of enthusiastic attention.

    Also, your libertarian stance elsewhere on the net seems to be markedly at odds with irrevocably removing choices from a non-consenting adult that can easily be made when informed concent is possible after the age of 18.

  10. Dave Bath said

    There’s been moderate activity at reddit on this post if anyone is interested. I only noticed because of the referrals from this

  11. Also, your libertarian stance elsewhere on the net seems to be markedly at odds with irrevocably removing choices from a non-consenting adult that can easily be made when informed concent is possible after the age of 18.

    I don’t consider male circumcision that significant. Nor do I think making the wrong decision would have a seriously negative impact. It’s a fact of life that certain choices will be made for children by their parents, and this is reasonably one of those choices. It’s no different to deciding whether to send your child to a religious school. I think parents should be able to make that choice, even though I believe that forcing religion on a child is harmful – probably more harmful than circumcision. Of course I believe in rights for children which do place limits on parental decisions, so I wouldn’t support a parent getting their child tattooed for example. And my understanding is that all forms of female circumcision have a high probability of a serious negative impact if the wrong decision was made. Like I say, I believe I’ve made the right decision for my boys and done it at the time of their lives where the negative effects are minimised and all they have to do is enjoy the positive ones!

  12. […] is sick and cannot attend.  Well, we’ll just have to ask the Police Minister about exemptions to the law that permit violence to infants…. oh, just heard, that Minister is suddenly ill […]

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