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The Other FGM Debate: Is Male Circumcision (MGM) Also Child Abuse?

June 3, 2012

There is very serious concern in the UK about the increasing numbers of small girls – probably over 20,000 annually – at risk of FGM (female genital mutilation).  This is indisputably a matter of child abuse; discussion and news on action about #NoFGM in the UK can be found on this website here.   But many maintain  (and I agree) that male circumcision – more properly, MGM – is also child abuse and should be banned. You are welcome to share (evidenced) views about male circumcision via the Comments box below. [PS Contributions so far are illuminating.]

Some initial thoughts:
FGM: The Difficult Debates (some initial thoughts from earlier in the ‘debate’; considers also male circumcision)

The case against (male, child) circumcision:
Dr Tobe Levin lecture (Dr Levin is a long-time activist against FGM who with very good reason also opposes MGM – essential viewing; the lecture was given in Germany but is in English.)

The WHOLE Network

Doctors Opposing Circumcision

End Routine Infant Circumcision

Beyond the Bris

Confessions of a Circumcised Woman

Keeping Future Sons Intact

Circumcised Dads Intact Sons

Integrity × Intactivism = i² / Discussion of genital integrity and intactivism

Circumcision Should Be Banned (Paul Livingstone)

Global information:
Circumcision Information (official positions in Australia, UK, South Africa, Canada, Netherlands, USA, Finland, Sweden, Denmark)

Pros & Cons:
About Kids’ Health: Circumcision (The Hospital for Sick Children)

Male circumcision and FGM are not equivalent (Margaret Nelson, The Answer’s 42 blog)

Circumcision Policy Statement (American Academy of Pediatrics, 27 August 2012)

Wider perspectives:
University of Oxford, Practical Ethics debate: A fatal irony: Why the “circumcision solution” to the AIDS epidemic in Africa will increase transmission of HIV by Brian Earp

Chapter 18 of “Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy” by Edward Wallerstein (Springer, 1980)

The items above are of course just a small sample of possible reference points.
Please feel free to add further information and (evidence-based) opinion via the Comments box below…

~

[NB The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, which has a primary focus on FGM, is clear that in formal discourse any term other than ‘mutilation’ concedes damagingly to the cultural relativists – though the terms employed may of necessity vary in informal discussion with those who by tradition use alternative vocabulary. See the Feminist Statement on the Naming and Abolition of Female Genital Mutilation,  The Bamako Declaration: Female Genital Mutilation Terminology and the debate about Anthr/Apologists on this website.]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Books by Hilary Burrage on female genital mutilation

For more detail and discussion of female genital mutilation please see my textbook, which considers in some detail the situation globally, but also explores the issues relating specifically to Western nations:  Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Ashgate/Routledge, 2015). My second book, Female Mutilation: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation (New Holland Publishers, 2016), contains narrative ‘stories’ (case studies) from about seventy people across five continents who have experienced FGM, either as survivors and/or as campaigners and activists against this harmful traditional practice.

FURTHER INFORMATION AND ACTION

There is a free FGM hotline for anyone in the UK: 0800 028 3550, or email:fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk

The #NoFGM Daily News carries reports of all items shared on Twitter that day about FGM – brings many organisations and developments into focus.

Also available to follow is daily news from #NoFGM_USA Daily News.

For more on FGM please see here.

Twitter accounts:@NoFGM_UK  @NoFGMBookUK @FemaleMutlnBook @FGMStatement  @NoFGM_USA @NoFGM_Kenya@NoFGM_France  @GuardianEndFGM [tag for all: #NoFGM] and@StopMGM.

Facebook page: #NoFGM – a crime against humanity

More info on FGM in the UK here. Email contact: NoFGM email

PLEASE NOTE:

I am also categorically opposed to MGM, but that is not the focus in general of this particular website (and yes, I do understand the parallels between FGM and MGM, and I broadly accept the wider Intactivist position; my concerns would be about how in practice to deliver eradication – I believe the methodologies need in some part to be distinct).

My book ‘Eradicating FGM’ (above) refers to these matters on, eg, pp 7-8, 85-86, 162, 204 and 270.

Anyone wishing to offer additional comment on more general considerations around infant and juvenile genital mutilation (including gender reassignment) is asked please to do so here, on this, the relevant dedicated thread, originally developed in June 2012:

[Citation link: The Other FGM Debate: Is Male Circumcision (MGM) Also Child Abuse?]

Pending further notice (of a planned new blog, sometime after February 2016), discussion of the general issues re M/FGM will not be published unless they are posted on this dedicated page.  Thanks.

27 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2012 22:35

    Thanks for raising this Hilary – please see our online petition on tackling Unnecessary Male Circumcision in the UK here: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/uk-government-end-unnecessary-male-circumcision-in-the-uk

    And also a list of some of the key organisations working on this issue in the UK here: http://endmalecircumcision.blogspot.co.uk/p/friend-of-foe.html

    And news of A July conference in England on male circumcision here: http://endmalecircumcision.blogspot.co.uk/p/july-2012-mini-conference.html

    Best
    Glen Poole
    The Men’s Network
    http://www.themensnetwork.org.uk

  2. June 3, 2012 22:44

    Thanks for all this info, Glen! Very helpful.
    PS I wonder if you might also like to join us in trying to establish exactly why our own H.M. Gov. e-petition was rejected? Background info here: http://pinkpolitika.com/2012/05/29/h-m-government-e-petition-on-fgm-rejected/
    We felt it was really important to post a petition on the HMGov website, and really can’t understand the objection to date….

  3. June 4, 2012 00:04

    I’ve never understood the double standard of a zero-tolerance approach to female cutting, while male cutting is commonplace.

    It’s illegal to cut off a girl’s prepuce, or to make any incision on a girl’s genitals, even if no tissue is removed. Why don’t boys get the same protection? Everyone should be able to decide for themselves whether they want parts of their genitals cut off. It’s *their* body.

  4. June 4, 2012 05:50

    Reblogged this on Far be it from me –.

  5. June 4, 2012 05:53

    Am sharing and re blogging Hilary thanks for this very important post

  6. June 4, 2012 06:20

    The word “mutilation” seems to raise people’s hackles when they support the practice, whether male or female. For that reason I always call it “cutting”, which can’t be denied. We constantly hear that they can not be compared, but ethically, as human rights violations, they certainly can, when ALL FGC is outlawed, regardless of severity.

    • June 4, 2012 08:28

      Thanks Hugh (and everyone else who’s contributed above).

      Re: ‘cutting’ … Yes, you are of course correct that some people prefer that word to the more direct description of ‘mutilation’; but in fact – for girls anyway, and for boys some places (NB I’m referring here to minors, not adults who can choose for themselves) – the ‘cutting’ is a grave crime, child abuse, so why not use a word which more accurately reflects this?

      There may (?) be a case sometimes for describing FGM and circumcision as ‘cutting’ when in conversation with people who must be persuaded within traditional communities, but even then not routinely in the UK, where the law on FGM at least is clear that it is a serious criminal act.

  7. June 4, 2012 08:45

    I would like to draw your attention to the charity Genital Autonomy (GA) http://www.genitalautonomy.org which is a human rights charity using the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to protect male, female and intersex children from unnecessary genital surgery on children.

    With regard to the issues surrounding male circumcision, anyone who is interested in exploring this important issue should consider attending a one day mini-conference and workshop in July at Keele University, run by Genital Autonomy on how to prevent unnecessary male circumcision. Around 90% of circumcisions – including those carried out for medical reasons – are believed to be medically unnecessary. We believe that if more people were aware of this issue they would want to take action to reduce the number of unnecessary male circumcisions performed every day in the UK.
    You can find more information about this event by clicking the following link: http://www.genitalautonomy.org/#/one-day-workshop/4563218566

    We are also running a three day international symposium in Helsinki in September. Here is the link: http://www.genitalautonomy.org/#/genital-autonomy-2012/4563224012 This symposium will deal with genital cutting of male, female and intersex children and will bring together experts from around the world who deal with this issue.

    Genital cutting of children must stop, full stop

  8. June 4, 2012 09:47

    Thank you Hilary, It is good to see so many people working in unison to deal with this issue. It is nice to see at last some unity in the approach to both male and female genital sutting which in the past has been frequently fragmented by the distracting debate as to which is worse, FGM or MGM when we should be campaigning to ensure neither sex suffers from this appalling practice. I hope to meet as many campaigners as possible in Helsinki.in September.

  9. June 4, 2012 10:15

    Thanks for this Hilary. For me there need be no debate about whether forced removal of male foreskin is abuse – it clearly is. It’s half his penile skin, and with a unique concentration of nerve endings has a clear role in his sexual joy, as well as a more obvious comfort/protection function (for both him and his partner).

    Compare this drastic excision to the minor incision of the female foreskin (type IA FGM) which the WHO says is one of the most prevalent forms internationally. In Malaysia it’s performed on little baby girls in clinics by a doctor. It removes nothing. The American Medical establishment have tried to introduce it twice to placate immigrant parents, calling it ‘harmless’.

    And both times this has caused outrage. The WHO weighed up the issue of type IV female cutting and pronounced it mutilation, saying that, “the guiding principles for considering genital practices as female genital mutilation should be those of human rights” In other words she owns the skin she’s in. All of it.

    How on earth can we claim that a man or boy doesn’t own the skin he’s in?

    Is he less human? Or did someone quietly typex out ‘Human’ from the ‘International Declaration of Human Rights’ and scrawl in ‘Women’s’?

    Even on a pragmatic level discriminating against boys in this way does society no favours. Children live what they learn. If society hates their body, why should boys grow up to respect other people’s bodies? I believe that it’s no coincidence that societies where forced genital mutilation is practiced on boys are also societies where violence against women is particularly notable.

    And where male genital mutilation is practised female genital mutilation usually is too (including the US where thousands and thousands of normal women are pressured to excise significant nervous tissue in a type IIA FGM every year). One of the bullying refrains which push labiaplasty on vulnerable teenagers in the West is that large labia imply promiscuity or that they will disgust a man (see my blog). Once you begin to examine these issues, and the racist misogynist history of labiaplasty, you quickly realise that we are morally threadbare on FGM issues. As we are on MGM.

    The so called ‘hygiene’ argument for MGM particularly undermines our case against FGM – and it enrages me to hear it cited uncritically by a woman. After all myconium smegmatis is 10x more common in our labial folds than it is on the penis. If forced surgery is genuinely an appropriate alternative to washing, then why shouldn’t you and I be the first under the knife?

    In Africa females form a majority of victims of HIV – they are not directly protected by the male circ campaign, so if mass coerced genital damage is really an appropriate response to this disease why aren’t we investigating the ‘benefits’ we might bring women by cutting or otherwise damaging their sensitive bits, including perhaps cauterising the cervix which is particularly vulnerable to HIV? It’s not as if research hasn’t already indicated that genital damage may have a benefit – in Tanzania, after proper data controlling, female excision practices were found to be associated with 40% less HIV in women. See http://www.youtube.com/user/cleansexy who promotes FGM for these reasons…

    When we try to create a list of prophylactic reasons why forced male circ could be morally acceptable, all we do is create an opportunity for FGM proponents like CleanSexy to make their case. Zero tolerance of all FGM (forced genital mutilation) is the only way forward.

    Please do keep speaking up. Challenge the bizarre ‘mutilation top trumps’ game so many campaigners seem determined to play. And please raise awareness of the huge toll of harm in the UK and Ireland from male circ. Some examples, and some examples of bizarre establishment responses, are found here:

    http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2009/02/423057.html

  10. June 4, 2012 10:31

    I was circumcised at birth and for many years did not perceive the impact that it has insidiously imposed on my life. This is due to two main factors: 1 – someone that was circumcised at birth is unaware of the difference between being intact and being circumcised due to the “you don’t miss what you never had” effect, and 2 – society has become conditioned to accept it due to the medical/religious connotations, and not as a form of genital mutilation and subjugation which in the overwhelming majority of cases it actually is.

  11. June 4, 2012 14:25

    I was cut at birth and the detrimental effects of this (psychologically and physically) have been with me ever since. Since 1993 I have been working with others who share my view, that genital cutting of any child is abuse.

  12. June 11, 2012 09:51

    The question is one of autonomy.

    The removal of normal healthy genital tissue from a normal healthy girl too young to say no and too small to fight back is a violation of her right to autonomy.

    The removal of normal healthy genital tissue from a normal healthy boy too young to say no and too small to fight back is a violation of his right to autonomy.

    As such the two practices differ only according to the sex of the child.

    Is female circumcision worse than male circumcision? I don’t really think that matters since the violation of the child’s right to autonomy is just the same. If it was done to you without your personal consent potential for life-long harm should be obvious.

    • June 11, 2012 12:25

      Thanks for this. The principle of no invasion without informed consent is indeed the same, John. I’d agree that any of these procedures should only be practised on fully consenting adults.

      I think however that we must bear in mind, as others have stressed, that the mortality and serious morbidity rate for the male and female procedures are very much not the same – between 10 and even in some places up to 30% of FGM girl victims actually die because of it – but as yet very few people realise this. And such awful prospects for previously healthy child really do ‘matter’. It’s unfortunately a fundamentally different order of likely death.

      There are I’d suggest two different lobbies required here: One is, as you say, to prevent all unnecessary violation of any child’s autonomy. And the other is to stop, as a matter of urgency, desparately cruel and hurtful practices on cognisant little girls.

      I don’t see these two campaigns as in conflict.

  13. June 26, 2012 19:12

    A news story from Germany about banning ‘religious’ circumcision: http://www.rt.com/news/germany-religious-circumcision-ban-772/

  14. December 11, 2012 20:59

    An interesting document that also mentions the parallel between FGM and MGM is the Royal Dutch Medical Association’s viewpoint on circumcision from 2010. Interesting read, especially as it strongly contrasts with the AAP’s statement which you referred at the top: http://knmg.artsennet.nl/Publicaties/KNMGpublicatie/Nontherapeutic-circumcision-of-male-minors-2010.htm

    • December 11, 2012 22:04

      Thanks, am always glad to add different ‘national’ perspectives.
      NB There is intentionally a wide range of opinion above, but as you’ll have noted, most of it is in fact in sympathy with the case against MGM.

  15. June 24, 2013 09:57

    Breakthrough! >> *NSPCC FGM HELPLINE* set up today, 24 June 2013

    Call: 0800 028 3550
    Email: fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk

    Female Genital Mutilation is child abuse. If you are worried a child may be a victim, or at risk of female genital mutilation don’t wait until you’re certain, contact the NSPCC immediately.

    In the UK, people from the following communities are most at risk of FGM:
    Bohra-Dawoodi (Pakistani and Indian)
    Egyptian
    Eritrean
    Ethiopian
    Ghanaian
    Indonesian
    Kenyan
    Kurdish
    Nigerian
    Sierra Leonean
    Somali
    Sudanese
    Tanzanian
    Yemeni

    Don’t let socio-cultural pressures get in the way of protecting children.

    FGM is a harmful “cultural” practice, but it is not a religious one. Carrying out this practice has been a criminal offence in the UK since 1985. However, there has not been a single prosecution to date.

    As with other forms of child abuse, these crimes often remain hidden and unreported, as children are too ashamed or afraid to speak out.

    You can call the NSPCC helpline on 0800 028 3550 and send emails to fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk, text on 88858 or use the NSPCC Helpline online form: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/Applications/Forms/HelplineConcern/the-helpline-online-form.aspx

    More information on female genital mutilation here: https://hilaryburrage.com/tag/fgm/

    • Baltar permalink
      November 29, 2013 09:43

      Good to see this at least discussed on the same site as FGM – especially because MGM was the original source of all of the lies and mindsets that lead to FGM and intersex mutilation.

  16. Robert Munyui Kamunyu permalink
    January 5, 2015 15:41

    FGM PROSTITUTION ON WOMANHOOD BY PARENTS- THE BUTCHERS OF WOMANHOOD ( THE COVENANT OF THE FLESH).
    When God told Abraham to sign the covenant of the flesh, he circumcised all the male children and he was circumcised. The message was direct and in plain language. GENESIS 17: 1-27. The agreement was strategically initiated and the male child grew beholding daily his agreement with God at every call of nature throughout his married life.. The covenant of the flesh for a man is with ease to behold with no ill feelings or regrets without medication required afterwards in life. When God told Moses that the Children of Israel shall not circumcise their girls, the message was given in a spiritual language and bore two warnings….. [cont, via link above]
    GOD OUTLAWED FGM WHICH WAS FORBIDDEN AND WRITTEN IN SPIRITUAL LANGUAGE. Leviticus 19:28-29.
    The message is freely given purely to the body of JESUS CHRIST worldwide.
    By Br. Robert Munyui Kamunyu.

    • January 6, 2015 19:40

      When God told Abraham to sign the covenant of the flesh, he circumcised all the male children and he was circumcised. The message was direct and in plain language. GENESIS 17: 1-27

      That passage also says to circumcise male slaves, but no-one defends slavery any more.

      The New Testament says in direct and plain language *not* to circumcise:
      Galatians 5:2 (King James Version)
      Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

  17. August 22, 2016 13:26

    Cutting male and female genitals are similar. 1) They are unnecessary, extremely painful, and traumatic. 2) They can have adverse sexual and psychological effects. 3) They are generally done by force on children. 4) They are generally supported by local medical doctors. 5) Pertinent biological facts are not generally known where procedures are practiced.* 6) They are defended with reasons such as tradition, religion, aesthetics, cleanliness, and health. These reasons are used to mask underlying reasons. 7) The rationale has currently or historically been connected to controlling sexual pleasure. 8) They are often believed to have no effect on normal sexual functioning. 9) They are generally accepted and supported by those who have been subjected to them. 10) Those who are cut have a compulsion to repeat their trauma on their children, a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. 11) The choice may be motivated by underlying psychosexual reasons. 12) Critical public discussion is generally taboo where the procedures are practiced. 13) They can result in serious complications that can lead to death. 14) The adverse effects are hidden by repression and denial. 15) Dozens of potentially harmful physiological, emotional, behavioral, sexual, and social effects on individuals and societies have never been studied. 16) On a qualitative level, cutting the genitals of male and female children are the same. The harm starts with the first cut, any cut. 17) The decision is generally controlled by men though women may be supportive.18) They violate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 19) They generally exist together.** 20) To stop one, we must stop both. Then we may better develop toward our individual and social potential. May courage overcome conformity.

    *For example, most US doctors do not know the functions of the foreskin.
    **For example, in the US, there are unnecessary episiotomies and other unnecessary and harmful surgeries on women.

    For more information, please see http://www.circumcision.org, http://www.jewishcircumcision.org, and http://www.ronaldgoldmanphd.com.

  18. January 19, 2017 15:48

    My best thoughts in that debate lie in this article – that has been quoted by Judge Jean-Pierre Rosenczveig -: “Sexual mutilation and the moral order” https://www.academia.edu/30472274/Sexual_mutilation_and_the_moral_order

  19. January 19, 2017 15:58

    Now, considering first, that sexual mutilation does not only assault the right to the body (bodily integrity, dignity, and autonomy), but also the right to pleasure that is denied and threatened for both sexes, second, that men are and will be more powerful than women for long, circumcision is the main enemy, and fighting it is the most important issue (excision is only the visible part of the iceberg of sexual mutilation).

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