Religious Leaders Condemn Iceland’s Proposal to Ban Male Circumcision

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

REYKJAVIK, Iceland – Religious groups are criticizing legislation being considered in Iceland that would ban male circumcision for non-medical reasons.

A Jewish religious male circumcision ceremony is performed. Photo courtesy of Anton Podgaiko.

Iceland’s Parliament is debating legislation that would impose a six-year prison term for circumcisions performed for non-medical reasons.

The legislation was proposed in response to the country’s outlaw on female genital mutilation in 2005. It would outlaw circumcision on children and establish an age of consent after-which an individual could undergo the procedure.

Supporters of the legislation believe that children should be old enough to give informed consent before undergoing the procedure. They believe that the practice infringes on the rights of individuals who are not yet capable to make the decision on their own. They also point to potential risks of the procedure, which include bleeding and infection.

“We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief,” said Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir, a lawmaker who proposed the new legislation. “Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come about the right to believe.”

Jewish and Muslim religious leaders are condemning the proposal as an attack on religious freedom.

Circumcision is a procedure where the foreskin is removed from the penis. It is usually performed shortly after birth or during childhood. Jews and Muslims perform circumcisions as religious rituals to mark a child’s relationship with God.

“Protecting the health of children is a legitimate goal of every society, but in this case this concern is instrumentalized, without any scientific basis, to stigmatize certain religious communities,” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the Catholic Church in the European Union.

“It’s… part of our faith,”said Imam Ahmad Seddeeq at the Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland. “It’s something that touches our religion and I believe that this is… a contravention [of] religious freedom.”

The practice is not limited to religious reasons and is commonly practiced throughout the world across all ethnicities. An estimate by the World Health Organization in 2009 found that one in three men in the world are circumcised.

The American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a review in 2012, finding that the benefits of circumcision outweigh any risks associated with the procedure and issuing the following statement: “The health benefits of circumcision include lower risks of acquiring HIV, genital herpes, human papilloma virus and syphilis. Circumcision also lowers the risk of penile cancer over a lifetime; reduces the risk of cervical cancer in sexual partners, and lowers the risk of urinary tract infections in the first year of life.”

However, the group also stated that the benefits were not enough to recommend universal circumcision.

Circumcision is currently legal throughout Europe.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Iceland’s Mooted Circumcision Ban Sparks Religious Outrage – 19 February 2018

CNN – Iceland’s Proposed Ban on Male Circumcisions Upsets Jews, Muslims – 20 February 2018

Huffington Post – Iceland’s Proposed Ban on Male Circumcision Alarms Religious Leaders – 19 February 2018

Newsweek – Iceland Angers Jewish and Muslim Leaders Over Proposal to Ban Infant Male Circumcision – 19 February 2018

USA Today – Iceland Could Become First Country to Ban Male Circumcision – 19 February 2018

Author: Jenilyn Brhel

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