Know the Facts That Discredit Infant Circumcision

In a typical example of the “Facts About Circumcision” genre of public health journalism, this version from Zimbabwe demonstrates the usual public health misunderstanding of consent.

Reports that the Health ministry would make neonatal circumcision mandatory has also raised serious concerns.

But National Male Circumcision Coordinator in the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, Sinokuthemba Xaba said male circumcision in Zimbabwe remained a voluntary procedure for adult males, neonates and infants.

“Those who are below 18 years have to have a consent form that is signed by a parent or legal guardian to allow them to go through with the procedure,” said Xaba. “In this regard, the programme remains voluntary and when the Health ministry rolls out Early Infant Male Circumcision, it will still be voluntary, where the parent volunteers and signs the consent form to allow the male child to be circumcised.”

This interpretation butchers all meaning from the word voluntary. Circumcision forced onto a healthy child who can’t provide his consent to permanent bodily alteration is not “voluntary”. Ignoring the healthy patient shows a belief that consent is a form to be signed rather than a concept for respecting basic human rights.

Xaba said there was a study that was being done to ascertain the safety of infant circumcision.

“It is focusing on the safety, feasibility and acceptability of early infant male circumcision,” said Xaba.

Sure it will be studied, but without studying the acceptability of early infant male circumcision to the male being circumcised in early infancy. It rarely means anything to public health officials that the number of males unhappy being circumcised as infants is non-zero. They do not concern themselves with individual rights. Their population is one, “the public”. As such, they never mean voluntary when they use the word voluntary.

For example:

“The programme will only be availed and rolled out, based on the findings of this study. Therefore, when it is available, it will be a safe procedure for the infants.”

It will be available. It will be inflicted on non-consenting infants. The outcome of the study – of acceptability – is known before it’s completed.

The article contains some discussion of legitimate individual consent and rights from citizens. There are rational voices for individual rights, but one pro-infant circumcision comment reveals a truth I’ve discussed before that is too often overlooked (or denied, contrary to evidence):

Some women said child circumcision was an opportunity to take control of their children’s destiny and shape it into a brighter future.

“It is all for their benefit, so I do not see where the issue of rights is coming from,” said Memory Mhishi, a shop assistant in a clothing boutique along First street.

This¹ is the belief that intention matters more than action. The attitude is that as long as parents intend to do good, we must not question the means within currently accepted standards. We must adhere to that even in areas where infant circumcision is now being introduced, as opposed to it being a long-standing tradition. But that demand is preposterous. Forced genital cutting for whatever non-therapeutic potential benefit parents seek is inherently a form of control. It’s a statement that the child should want this and, because he might reject it, his choice may be taken away from him “for his benefit”. That is indefensible if human rights matter. Human rights matter.

¹ Please please please do not focus on “Some women…” in that quote. If you obsess on that, you’re injecting your own agenda and problems into the debate that should be focused on protecting the bodies and rights of children. Men/fathers say the same thing “some women” told the author.

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