UN Human Rights Commission Written Arguments
United Nations Human Rights Commission
Sub-Commission on Promotion and
Geneva, Switzerland Development of Human Rights
Thursday, 9 August 2001
The National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers, a non-governmental organization in Roster status with the United Nations, has requested the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to conduct hearings to determine if involuntary non-therapeutic circumcision of male minor children should be considered a human rights violation.This file contains the written statement by J. Steven Svoboda, J.D., Esq, Director, Attorneys for the Rights of the Child, submitted to the fifty-third session of the Sub-Commission on Promotion and Development of Human Rights, United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Geneva, 9 August 2001.
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS Sub-Commission on the Promotion And Protection of Human Rights Fifty-third session Agenda Item 6
Written statement submitted by the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC), a non-governmental organization on the Roster
1. The National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC) respectfully submits this response to Special Rapporteur Mrs. Halima Embarek Warzazi’s latest study of traditional practices affecting the health of women and the girl child. NOCIRC notes with satisfaction the attention appropriately paid by Mrs. Warzazi to traditional practices affecting the health of women and the girl child including female genital mutilation.
2. NOCIRC notes that Mrs. Warzazi’s mandate originally encompassed traditional practices affecting the health of women and children but that more recently her mandate has been redefined to focus exclusively on traditional practices affecting the health of women and the girl child, thus excluding traditional practices which may affect the health of the boy child. NOCIRC further notes that male circumcision has apparently never been studied as a human rights issue by the Sub-Commission.
3. NOCIRC notes that the Parliament of Sweden recently voted decisively, 249 to 10, in favor of Law 2001:499, new legislation which regulates male circumcision and which orders a study to determine whether male circumcision should be considered a human rights violation. Many Swedish Members of Parliament stated that male circumcision violates children’s rights. The 10 dissenters in the Swedish vote objected only because they supported total criminalization, rather than mere regulation, of non-therapeutic circumcision of male children.
4. Male circumcision has been stated to be a human rights violation by academics, legislators, non-governmental organizations, and courts. NOCIRC notes the substantial research and scholarship demonstrating that male circumcision is a human rights violation. Numerous researchers have comprehensively documented the broad range of physical and psychological harm caused by male circumcision, including infant pain response, serious harm to infant neurological development and memory capability, the damage caused by memories of the procedure, the damage caused to self- esteem and body image, post-traumatic stress disorder, and serious impacts on sexuality.
5. NOCIRC notes that male circumcision is a very pervasive practice throughout both the developed and developing worlds. An estimated 13.3 million male children and babies are forced to undergo genital cutting each year. As a numerical frame of reference, 2 million females undergo some form of female genital mutilation annually. In most places where female genital mutilation occurs, male circumcision also occurs. Thus elimination of one practice may go hand-in-hand with elimination of the other. In the developed world, the procedure is typically carried out at infancy, while in the developing world it occurs any time between infancy and early adulthood depending on various factors.
6. NOCIRC makes no express or implied comparison between male circumcision and female genital mutilation. NOCIRC believes that such comparisons are counter-productive.
7. The fact that a newborn baby can suffer pain has been proven. The harm that male circumcision causes to babies by the severe levels of pain has been repeatedly documented. The level of response to the pain and stress of the procedure exceeds the response to blood sampling or injections and is not significantly reduced even by application of an anesthetic. Male circumcision harms women by impairing infant-mother bonding and breastfeeding.
8. NOCIRC notes that male circumcision does not have any significant medical benefits justifying its routine use. Every national medical association in the world which has considered the issue has refused to endorse routine male circumcision. Respected opponents of female genital mutilation have also questioned male circumcision and have pointed out analogies between the two practices and between false beliefs surrounding and justifying the perpetuation of the two practices. Recent research demonstrates that the average male circumcision in the developed world removes 51% of all surface genital tissue and also a highly significant number of nerve endings including extremely specialized tissue unique to that part of the body and fundamental to human sexual response. A poll of circumcised men documents the long-term harm which many men experience as a result of this procedure.
9. Research suggests that male circumcision causes behavioral changes and that some reported gender differences may actually be a result of male circumcision.
10. Complications in the developed world, which include an estimated 250 deaths each year, occur with a frequency of between 2-5% or more depending on the definition applied. One study of male circumcision in the developing world found that 9% of the boys died, 52% lost all or most of their penile shaft skin, 14% developed severe infectious lesions; 10% lost their glans penis, and 5% lost their entire penis. This represents only those boys who completed travel to the hospital. The true complication rate is likely to be higher.
11. While supporting Mrs. Warzazi’s admirable work on traditional practices specifically affecting women and the girl-child, NOCIRC respectfully questions the Sub-Commission’s apparent lack of attention to traditional practices which specifically affect the male child such as male circumcision. NOCIRC notes that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and other relevant treaties are applicable both to males and females, and that discrimination against either gender in their application is forbidden.
12. Legislation or human rights provisions which protect against female genital mutilation and not male circumcision violate the human rights of the boy child. A difference in severity between female genital mutilation and male circumcision does not justify the neglect of the latter practice. Ample evidence proves the serious harm caused by male circumcision. Moreover, treaty provisions such as Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child bar discrimination on the basis of sex.
13. Any alteration of children's genitals performed without medical justification violates human rights. Male circumcision violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and other treaties. Article 24.3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child calls on states to "take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children," terminology which is fully applicable to male circumcision.
14. Male circumcision causes lasting and severe harm and violates human rights.
15. NOCIRC respectfully requests that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and the Girl Child be revised to again encompass traditional practices affecting the health of women and children.
16. NOCIRC respectfully requests that the Sub-Commission undertake a study of male circumcision as a human rights violation.