Centre Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) politician Jenny Klinge wants to ban circumcision in Norway, or bring the penalty for a boy’s circumcision-related death in line with laws governing female genital mutilation. Health minister Bent Høie criticized Klinge for comparing the two practices on Wednesday, and said while laws are being developed to regulate male circumcision it won’t be outlawed.
“It can not be such that when a boy dies, then it’s not punished at all, while if a girl dies it’s punishable by up to 10 years,” said Klinge, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). She wants the act of removing part of the male foreskin banned in Norway, like female circumcision is.
“But if the government doesn’t have enough guts to forbid that, and would rather regulate the practice, then they must go into the legislation and criminal law to find out how they can give the same legal protection to boys in the event of injury or death,” said Klinge. She was also concerned male circumcision is still lawful even when practiced outside the health system.
Klinge’s demands sparked heated debate in parliamentary question time on Wednesday. Health Minister Høie from the Conservative Party (Høyre) slammed Klinge for referring to male and female “circumcision”, because it “creates the impression that female genital mutilation is less serious than it actually is.”
“Female genital mutilation is a serious assault which the World Health Organization describes as a violation of human rights,” Høie told NRK, adding there was international consensus against the practice. “Circumcision of boys is another thing altogether, and it’s a procedure that is performed in large parts of the world.”
There are about 2,000 circumcisions carried out each year in Norway, but currently there are no laws governing male circumcision and the practice isn’t performed in hospitals. Klinge cited examples including a 67-year-old man who was charged with aggravated assault in 2008, after he cut the foreskins of two boys with a pair of scissors. He was acquitted on the grounds that the parents initiated the whole thing, and circumcision of boys is not a crime.
In 2012 a two-week-old boy died from complications following a circumcision at a doctor’s surgery in Oslo. The doctors involved were not suspended, and while they received notice of possible sanctions the Health Board (Helsetilsynets) told NRK the case hasn’t been finalized. The police won’t take the matter further before the board makes its recommendations.
Høie said work was underway on a draft bill to regulate circumcision, which will be ready before Easter. But he said the legislation will not fall under criminal law. “Unlike female genital mutilation, circumcision of boys is not illegal,” he said. “It’s not applicable to impose any prohibition against it.”
Klinge told NRK Høie lacked respect for the argument she was making. “Everyone agrees that female circumcision is a horrible practice, but that doesn’t mean we should accept that functional parts of a boy’s healthy genitals should be cut,” she said. “Here we must think of the principle and give children the same legal protection, regardless of gender.”
Klinge said she refers to female circumcision rather than female genital mutilation because both involve the circumcision of healthy genitalia. She said it’s a question of bodily harm against both sexes, but noted the consequences are often far more serious for girls.
The leader of Oslo’s Jewish community, Ervin Kohn, said it’s ethically wrong to compare the ritual circumcision of boys with female genital mutilation. “They are two totally different things,” he told NRK. “We already have laws against being injured during surgery. I think it’s unethical to compare circumcision of male children with genital mutilation, which is illegal in every country. It’s about freedom of religion and human rights.”
Worldwide, the practice is most common among Jewish and Muslim communities, but is also common in Christian and non-religious societies in countries like the United States.
When the former government first released proposals for regulation in 2011, several heavyweight medical bodies including the medical, nursing and children’s associations, human ethics groups, men’s resource centres and the Oslo University medical faculty supported banning male circumcision.