Figure published this week (1) reveals that in the UK 2491 cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) occurred last year between April and September in the United Kingdom. This is far too many and a report which speaks to unnecessary pain, distress and possible future disability. I applaud all those who try and stop this barbarism to young girls.
This is a major moral problem as it lets us know that the rights of children are being ignored. They are being mutilated without their consent and any benefit (religious observance, cultural tradition) accrues to the person organizing it, not to the child. Indeed, for the child, it can only be anticipated to be a negative event in their life. Children are not the property of their parents, they have their inalienable rights, like all people. The only difference in the situation of a child is that, in addition to rights, their parents also have a duty (which they contracted to when they decided to make the child) to take care of the child until it is emancipated.
The child’s rights are largely negative, as with all of us, and are predominately the right not to be subject to aggression or violence. It is the parent’s duty to safeguard this right. Genital mutilation, cutting the child for the benefits of the parent, breaches ths duty of care and infringes the child’s rights.
From a libertarian perspective this moral problem is easy to resolve. Genital mutilation should stop and any parent who perpetrates this on their children is not adequately fulfilling their duty of care and someone else should consider taking this role.
However, it is a moral problem, not a gender problem. This is not an issue of gender rights. To see this as a gender issue blinds us to the many young boys who suffer the same fate. In the UK about 12,200 male circumcisions are done annually. This is not a minor procedure as often portrayed. About 3% of babies have some complication following the procedure, lower rates of infection are reported in around 1 in 50 cases (2) and each year about 100 boys die in the USA following circumcision (3). The long term sequeleae are also important with significant rates of psycho-sexual dysfunction being recorded.
People often believe that their are health benefits from circumcision in males. Research has not shown this to be the case (4)
People often think the reasons that FGM is done is particularly related to curbing female sexuality. This is wrong. Male mutilation developed from the same drives to curb sexual drive and masturbation. Dr Kellog (5), of the breakfast cereal fame, wrote
“A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision, especially when there is any degree of phimosis. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment… In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement”
So lets see this as a moral question. Lets fight to push FGM into the history books where it should remain, but let us not forget our sons while we protect our daughters and let us stop male genital manipulation at the same time.
Boy or girl it is the same crime.
(2) Boyle GJ, Svoboda JS, Price CP, Turner JN. Circumcision of Healthy Boys: Criminal Assault? J Law Med. 2000;7:301–10.
(3) Bollinger, D. “Lost Boys: An Estimate of U.S. Circumcision-Related Infant Deaths,” Thymos: Journal of Boyhood Studies Volume 4, Number 1 (2010).
(4) Intact America