Law proposal in Iceland heats up: Children’s rights debate on circumcision not on ice

The Icelandic Parliament made headlines with a law proposal by one of its MPs that if parents want to organize a circumcision for their boy, they first have to ask permission of the child. Since the rite is performed by Jews on the infant’s eighth day and it is impossible to ask a baby permission. It means for Jews de facto a prohibition of the brit mila (religious male circumcision) and a limitation of freedom of religion.

On April 28, The Times of Israel gave the impression (“Key Iceland parliament committee favors scrapping bill to ban circumcision”) that the Judicial and Education Committee of the Parliament took a critical look and “recommended scrapping a bill that would ban the non-medical circumcision of boys”. Wishful thinking. Contacts that I had with different spokespeople in the Althingi, the Icelandic Parliament, led to the conclusion that there is no scrapping of this law proposal. Elisabeth Patricia Kruger of the Judicial Affairs and Educational Committee wrote to me that this law proposal is still in the Committee for further discussions. Also Mr Sigridur Thorsteinsdóttir of the Secretariat of the Parliament wrote that me that “all law proposals have to pass three readings in the Althingi and the law proposal forbidding circumcision of boys, proposal No 114, can be considered ‘work in progress’, because it is still in the Committee, after its first reading in Chamber”.
On May 28th the Parliament started again, after a recess for three weeks due to the municipal elections on May 26th. In Reykjavik, a stone has been thrown in the pond and more ripples are still expected. Like the ash from the Icelandic volcano results were felt not only in Iceland but by Jews and Muslims all over the world.

Many Islamic boys are circumcised when they are babies, but others when they are at school age. Another group in early adolescence. At that age it is possible to listen to children and to take the opinion of the child into account (according to article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: “States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child”). In many countries a young person can decide about medical treatment at age 16. It is assumed that in the case of babies the parents can take decisions in the best interests of their child. To perform a circumcision in a boy later than in early infancy means that stiches are needed and the procedure will be more traumatic.
On the evening of May 2nd, Gert Van Dijk representing the Royal Dutch Medical Association came on Dutch television to plead for the application of the Icelandic approach in the Netherlands. He said that circumcision of boys is a violation of the right to physical integrity. And told that removing the foreskin is damaging for boys because it can lead to less sexual pleasure. There are many scientific articles which don’t support that statement. More amazing was that Van Dijk claimed the similarity of male and female circumcision (Clitorectomy). When the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was drafted (1979-1989) the interpretation of article 24 paragraph 3 (“States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children”) only referred to circumcision of girls.

Eminent children’s rights expert Michael Freeman wrote in 1999 in the British Journal of Urology International “that far from ritual circumcision constituting abuse, it is arguable that the failure by Jewish or Muslim parents to do so is abuse, the child being likely to suffer significant harm”.
Article 8 of the Children’s Convention highlights the right to identity (”States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference”). To deny circumcision to a boy means to deny him his religious and cultural identity. My suggestion is that in the debate more attention needs to be paid to the importance of the right to identity.

Read in: the times of Israel