Natisni vsebino

Circumcision of boys for non-medical reasons is a violation of children's rights

06.03.2012 11:59
Category: work and news

In January 2012 the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia published its position on the circumcision of boys for non-medical reasons. The general public responded to the views published by initiating a public debate and a polemic, in which part of the public agreed with the Ombudsman's views, whereas the other part (notably, certain religious communities) flatly rejected it.

The Ombudsman's Office formulated its opinion on the basis of the initiator's request for an assessment as to whether circumcision represents an encroachment upon children's rights, in particular, where it is performed solely for religious reasons and not substantiated by medical considerations. On the basis of the initiative in question, the Ombudsman decided to review this issue in terms of the protection of human rights – especially children's rights. We have studied the professional literature available on the issue under discussion and sent questions and enquiries to certain institutions.

The expanded expert board of surgery informed the Ombudsman that, in their view, the circumcision of boys for non-medical reasons is medically unsubstantiated. The Medical Ethics Committee of the Republic of Slovenia submitted its general opinion that "owing to legal and ethical considerations, the ritual circumcision of boys for religious reasons is unacceptable in our country; therefore, doctors should not be allowed to perform this type of surgery".

Following a comprehensive examination of this issue, the Ombudsman formulated a position and communicated it to the general public. The Ombudsman emphasised that there must be a legitimate and legally substantiated reason for any medical intervention in the human (i.e. child's) body, or this would constitute a violation of the child's rights. It follows from an assessment of expert opinions, Slovenian legislation and international standards related to the protection of human rights that the right of parents or guardians to express their religious beliefs cannot justify an encroachment upon the right to the physical integrity of others. Therefore, the Ombudsman takes the view that circumcision for non-medical reasons is only permissible subject to the child's consent and under the conditions stipulated by the Slovenian Patients' Rights Act. This means that, as a rule, not until the child has reached 15 years of age.
Contrary to the recriminations expressed during the public debate, there is nothing in the Ombudsman's opinion that would violate the religious freedom of any person; it merely states the Ombudsman's position on a human rights issue. In addressing this matter, the Ombudsman had to weigh the children's right to physical integrity against the right of their parents or guardians to practise their own religious beliefs.

The Ombudsman highlighted the controversial nature of circumcision procedures, not with the intention to condemn them, but to make them subject to appropriate regulation. The competent state authorities were therefore advised to prepare, in cooperation with the religious communities affected, an appropriate legal framework that would also make the religious circumcision of children legally permissible, and regulate the way in which these procedures are performed in the public health system. Such a regulation would probably also meet the requirement under the applicable Slovenian Religious Freedom Act that, during the religious education of their children, parents must respect their children's physical and mental integrity.

The Slovenian Ombudsman would like to be informed as to whether a similar violation of children's rights has been considered by any other ombudsman, member of the Association of Mediterranean Ombudsmen (AOM), and of the position they took on this issue.

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