I want to address the UN about a human rights issue that I strongly believe even the UN fails in, even in theory. I want to start by asking you two questions:
According to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
- …do children and adults have the same rights?
- …do girls and boys have the same rights?
Was your answer «yes» to both?
Theory vs practice
In practice, do we HAVE the same rights? Do girls and boys have the same rights to keep their healthy bodies whole?
First, a biological fact: All humans are born with foreskin.
Actually, all mammals, male and female, are born with foreskin (with rare exceptions). The foreskin is a part of our genitalia that protects our inner structures of our genitalia, is highly functional, especially in males, and has very specialized nerve cells and a large collection of nerve endings, like the ones we have in our sensitive finger tips.
Second, a collective imagination and agreement: All humans are born with rights.
Universal, inalienable and indivisible human rights. That means they apply to every single one of us. With no exceptions.
Female circumcision (FGM), all kinds, of both girls and women, that is children and adults, is considered a human rights violation by the UN, the WHO and (at least in theory) by all states.
Circumcision of boys (MGM), however, is NOT considered a human rights violation by the UN, the WHO or any state. It’s even promoted by UN organisations. UNAIDS describes in their «Prevention Gap Report» of July 11th 2016 how their way forward is targeting infants and adolescents (page 40), probably hoping to establish «routine infant circumcision» there just like it was established in the US. From page 11:
First, getting Human Rights right
Why aren’t boys given the same basic right to keep their whole, healthy bodies intact, just as girls and adults have?
Even the UN, the expected number one protector of universal human rights, deny boys the same rights as girls and adults have. An un-consenting child, an unnecessary, invasive surgery: is there any moral difference between male and female circumcision?
There are a lot of rights holders who are screaming loudly to be heard. Where is their access to meaningful and effective remedy? Above all they want to save boys and the future men they will become from having their foreskin, human rights and bodily integrity taken away from them. Please read on, and you will meet more of them.
Genital cutting has been practiced for thousands of years by some african, muslim and jewish societies as a social surgery marking belonging to a religion or tribe. This also violates children’s rights, but religious beliefs or old traditions were not the main reasons why circumcision became a practice in the US from the late 1800s, and that is my focus here:
Business plays a part
Fact: There is a flow of money from families to the circumcision business.
As stated in the recently released and award-winning documentary, «American Circumcision» (2.31 min trailer), «circumcision is the most common surgery in America». The practice started as a puritan belief some doctors in the late 1800s had, a hypothesis that sexual pleasure caused a long list of serious diseases. To prevent or cure these diseases, they prescribed everything from healthy diets to intentionally painful circumcisions of both boys, girls, men and women.
At first only rich families could have this surgery done, and having been circumcised became a status symbol. As circumcision became affordable for middle class and working class – and marketed to them – more and more people got their children circumcised. At its peak a few decades ago, about 88% of north american boys were circumcised, usually as a «routine infant circumcision» pushed to their parents in the hospital framed as a responsible or even necessary thing to do. Many report that they had to stand strong to opt out of it. Doctors pushed for amputating a part of their healthy boys with no need for surgery at all. Most males in the world (about 70% or more) are intact and extremely rarely have problems with that, and even more rare a foreskin amputation or surgery is the required treatment of problems in relation to the foreskin.
Having your foreskin amputated became the social norm
As it was made available, affordable and marketed to americans, being intact eventually got seen as «dirty» and a potential threat to your or your potentially future(!) sex partners(!), health. Which it is not. You are clean if you wash yourself no matter if you are whole or not, and you are healthy and no threat to the health of others if you practice safe sex, which is the same no matter if you are intact or circumcised:
A – abstinence
B – being faithful
C – use a condom.
With better access to information and debate about this as the internet became available to people, more and more questioned, researched and left this genital cutting practice, let their boys be intact and got engaged to save other boys from getting cut.
Many doctors are still pushing circumcision on parents, some even «create a need» for it by performing and/or teaching forced retraction of boys foreskin, harming the foreskin that is naturally fused to the head of the penis like your nail is to your nail bed, to protect this inner structure and the urinary tract opening. Retracting the foreskin is painful and harmful, and as the foreskin and/or glans gets ripped and torn in the process, the boy will easily get infections that the doctor then will «cure» by amputating the foreskin. «I told you so», they probably think as they do that.
Of course infections are cured by antibiotics, not amputations. Amputations heightens the risk of dangerous infections in the wound and several other complications that often requires additional surgery or treatment, but are often left untreated because of lack of knowledge and embarrassment talking about pain or problems with the penis, often being suffered during puberty or in adulthood, as James Ketter so well and bravely writes about to help others.
The foreskin separates from the glans on its own as boys grow up, usually some time between they are toddlers to teenagers. This needs no attention from anyone but the boy himself. He will easily clean himself just as easily as females clean their genitalia which also has several skin folds. When they are babies you only wipe their penis gently like you would wipe off a finger, swoosh som water over it or just give your boy his regular baths.
The creation of the foreskin is not a problem – the creation of the foreskin as a problem is
Circumcision of boys is marketed and lobbied as positive for health by researchers and medics in societies where circumcision is or has been a social norm and business, especially strongly by the US/americans. The majority of researchers and medics around the world oppose this practice. And is it even legal?
The foreskin is not a birth defect or a threat against good health. It is a protective, functional and sensitive part of our bodies. So why has amputating boys foreskin become something parents in the US experience that they have to opt out of? It of course has a cost too, of some hundreds of dollars, sometimes covered by the family’s insurance company.
Circumcision of healthy boys is part of a lot of people’s professions, activities, product lines, research and also is something to promote, lobby, market and sell. Their livelihoods or profits are partly made up of surgery on children without any medical indication. «Cut a girl – go to jail, cut a boy – cash a check». Babies foreskin are even harvested and sold to companies using stem cells to make skin grafts used for treating for example burn victims, other research, cosmetic product testing and even for use as an ingredient in expensive anti-wrinkle cream as promoted by Oprah Winfrey on her show.
American circumcision – the export
Circumcision is even exported from the US to countries where being intact has been the social norm, and again creating a flow of money from american families and tax payers to the ones who are into circumcision as a business or profession, whether they are doctors, nurses, researchers, marketers, sales people or manufacturers of the equipment they use when they circumcise – and even organisations supposed to promote and provide human rights protection and crucial health services.
UNICEF are nowadays getting to hear what human rights defenders think of them being complicit in circumcision of boys and men in some african countries. At the same time UNICEF tries to get donations by selling aid as christmas presents.
Boys and men even die
It is estimated that about a hundred boys die caused by circumcision – every year – in the US alone. Nobody knows how many boys are lost or killed by having been circumcised, since it is not registered properly and data about it is seemingly not presented, but preferred to be kept hidden. Cause of death for boys who die after having been circumcised is usually blood loss, infections or cardiac arrest inflicted on the infant boys by having their healthy, normal foreskin amputated.
Babies can not get full anesthesia as older boys and adults get, because it is too risky. Infants, who are the least able to handle pain and trauma, are having to handle a trauma with definite potential for long-lasting psychological change. Local anesthesia is often failing and always only effective for a short time, and babies are the most vulnerable to pain and in 1997 a study of circumcision was halted due to the trauma the babies suffered.
One of many boys lost is baby Ryan, who died after his doctor talked his parents into circumcising him. A long list of more identified victims who have died caused by the same meaningless and harmful foreskin amputation practice is found here.
Globally, the number of boys who die caused by being circumcised is much higher. And if you look at these three pictures, you can see that PEPFAR, The United States Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, in collaboration with UN organisations and the WHO, «generously supported (funded) by the American people» are circumcising healthy African boys and men.
What is effectively preventing the spread of STDs, HIV/AIDS (and HPV)?
Not foreskin amputations.
«A one-time intervention, medical male circumcision provides men life-long partial protection against HIV as well as other sexually transmitted infections. It should always be considered as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention package of services and be used in conjunction with other methods of prevention, such as female and male condoms.»
Notice the promise of only «partial protection» and the long sentence with words that are not easily understood, that says that people need to use a condom even if they have had their foreskin amputated as part of the fight against HIV.
«PEPFAR also works closely with other multilateral institutions such as the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO). These institutions play vital roles in providing global leadership, expertise and resources, particularly in the areas of advocacy, government and civil society collaboration, HIV/AIDS and economic development, and health sector response (including HIV/AIDS surveillance, prevention, treatment, and care).»
«Male and female condoms are the only devices that both reduce the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and prevent unintended pregnancy.»
And that: «A recent global modelling analysis estimated that condoms have averted around 50 million new HIV infections since the onset of the HIV epidemic. For 2015, 27 billion condoms expected to be available globally through the private and public sector will provide up to an estimated 225 million couple years protection from unintended pregnancies.»
And that: «Despite the low cost of condoms, international funding for condom procurement in sub-Saharan Africa has stagnated in recent years.«
And most importantly they state that: «Voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) can reduce the risk of HIV acquisition by 60% among men, but because protection is only partial, should be supplemented with condom use.»
At page 40 of their UNAIDS report, you can read that their plans for way forward is to amputate boys foreskins:
This makes me wonder: How do they plan to amputate body parts without surgery? It sounds like magic to me. Who makes this equipment? I have never heard of it. Are they going to test it on Africans? On African children? Are they planning to let untrained people amputate each others foreskin in HIV/AIDS ridden societies with all the obvious risks that involves, including of HIV transmission?
And understand: They have a goal of establishing routine infant circumcision as a practice in African countries as it is established in the US (but declining, about 50% of American boys are circumcised now). I guess children who have no or limited knowledge of what it is like to have a foreskin are much easier to «handle complaints» from, opposed to handling complaints from older victims of «voluntary medical male circumcision».
Condoms, not cutting. Please.
After years of speaking out as leading and much-loved human rights activist in the intactivist movement, Jonathon Conte, chose to escape the pain he suffered because of having been circumcised and not protected when he was a defenseless baby. He escaped the pain by committing suicide in 2016. Please listen to his complaint here or search his name on Google, YouTube or Facebook. To find more outspoken victims, including parents regretting doing this to their sons, please check out The Bloodstained Men & Their Friends or I Am Not Thankful as a start. (Of course humans are complex).
Expanding the market: Creating a need, a business, a social norm
In this interview with Kennedy Owino, an Intactivist in Kenya, you can learn about his several worries over circumcision as part of AIDS relief operations. A dangerous myth about foreskin amputation providing close to «immunity» from STDs/HIV is created. In addition, intact men are body shamed and pressured into getting circumcised.
Please visit The VMMC project organisations experience vault to hear about serious complaints from several complainants.
The media also needs to do human rights due diligence
Please also see how newspapers like NBCnews write about this – irresponsibly – not mentioning the need for proper use of condoms no matter if the penis is intact or cut. And I have to repeat: Condoms protects all partners. Condoms are not only potentially reducing the chances of only one persons chance of catching the virus. Condoms protect all partners. Circumcised men can spread HIV and STDs (and cause unwanted pregnancies) to others just the same whether he is intact or cut.
Sensitivity is reduced by taking away the foreskin which in itself is very sensitive, especially the ridged band and the frenulum, and in addition the constantly exposed head of the circumcised penis will change. The glans and parts of the foreskin is supposed to be an inner structure, covered by the foreskin. When the foreskin is amputated, the glans will become an external structure, constantly be exposed to air, fabric and the environment. It will develop thicker skin, changing it’s ability to produce a little lubrication, and sometimes the skin will become rough and dry, so that it even may suffer bleeding rips and tears especially around the corona as the penis both expands during erections and is used in sexual activities. Some form of added (costly) lubrication is often needed for circumcised men and their partners, much more often than for intact partners.
When circumcision has desensitized your penis and you have sacrificed your foreskin as part of a UN and WHO supported AIDS relief operation, you are likely to skip the also and additional desensitizing condom, aren’t you? Civil society and complainants are saying that this is happening. We have to listen and stop this.
Dear UN, this is a serious matter of human rights violations and a health hazard
Please take human rights, medical ethics, scientific research and easy, safe, practical and non-invasive health measures seriously. When you cut parts off of healthy boys who are not able to make a well-informed consent on if they want this or not, you are cutting human rights, equality and medical ethics too.
In addition to all of this, you are also putting your organisations and your proven good health and human rights protective operations, in jeopardy. These important operations are not worth anything without people’s trust in you. If you don’t let human rights apply to every single individual, and you are into invasive, irreversible, risky and failing medical operations in conflict with at least boys human rights in combination with contradicting information creating dangerous myths when you know well that all people need and anyways need, is to use a simple condom for protection, you need not wonder why universal human rights are often seen as bullshit and are not understood by many, or why there is a growing amount of people who sees for example vaccinations as a medical fraud and «westerners» as a threat.
The many side effects of the operation «circumcision as AIDS relief» are very serious too.
Dear UN, please do your Human Rights Due Diligence
Complainants who have had their human rights violated when they were children are screaming to get heard. Please listen to them wherever they are.
Do your Human Rights Due Diligence properly. Do the right thing. Provide cheap condoms, not irreversible, costly and risky, non-efficient «russian roulette» surgery on boys and men. Don’t body shame intact men. Don’t let the American circumcision custom and business spread to south-Saharan countries. Hold your scalpels.
Look to Europe or elsewhere where the norm is being intact and where there are less sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS and not that many (but some) complaining of having a body part stolen or manipulated from them.
That some people are happy with having been circumcised as babies or boys is irrelevant. Most circumcised women and girls also feel OK about this, just as men often do. I would probably have felt OK without the upper parts of my ears if I was told they were amputated so that they wouldn’t be so difficult to clean, especially when I was a small child. People who were circumcised as boys or girls probably would have been happy as intact too. And how can they know what they are talking about when they have not experienced adult life as intact? Sean Ferguson describes very well his long process of discovering that he was circumcised and what that meant here? Understanding bias, cognitive dissonance, denial and the Milgram experiment can help us understand why this practice is still around.
Intactivists, civil society and medics and researchers from other parts of the world know that the UN, the WHO, PEPFAR and other major organisations are choosing to ignore their complainants and concerns while they should be listening very carefully and actually engage in active and adequate Human Rights Due Diligence to not only believe, but know that they aren’t risking violating anyones human rights or creating a health hazard.
Please listen and end circumcision of especially healthy boys – but also the selling of it to men. The only «risk» of ending this practice is that some medics will need to find better things to do, and they will for sure be able to do that. Do your Human Rights Due Diligence and medical ethics right. Correct use of condoms is the safe and easy answer to win over AIDS.
No more VMMC, «Voluntary Medical» Male Circumcisions. We need to very fast understand what MMGM, Mass Male Genital Mutilation, is. And end it.
RIP, Jonathon Conte, baby Ryan and all other boys, girls, men and women lost because of the circumcision practice.
Please also watch or just listen to these:
- Child circumcision: An Elephant in the Hospital (33 min)
- The Ethics of Neonatal Circumcision (48 min)
- The testimony of Dr. Ronald Goldman at a PACE hearing (9 min)
- The lasting trauma of circumcision — an interview with a (jewish) psychiatrist (11 min)
- The selling of circumcision – Hillary and Bill Clinton (3.21 min)