Circumcision and law: Wikis


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There is a dispute over whether this article relates to male circumcision only or to both male and female circumcision. Discussion is here.

There have been laws about circumcision dating back to ancient times. In a number of modern states, circumcision of males is presumed to be legal, but under certain circumstances, more general laws, such as laws about assault or child custody, may sometimes be interpreted as applying to situations involving male circumcision. Some countries have placed restrictions on circumcision.



There are ancient religious requirements for circumcision. The Hebrew Bible commands Jews to circumcise their male children on the eighth day of life and also to circumcise their male slaves (Genesis 17:11-12).

Laws banning circumcision are also ancient. The ancient Greeks prized the foreskin and disapproved of the Jewish custom of circumcision.[1] King Antiochus IV, of Syria, the occupying power of Judea in 170 BC, outlawed circumcision on penalty of death. This led to the Maccabean Revolt.[citation needed]

According to the Historia Augusta, the Roman emperor Hadrian issued a decree banning circumcision in the empire,[2] and some modern scholars argue that this was a main cause of the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt of 132 AD.[3] The Roman historian Cassius Dio, however, made no mention of such a law, and blamed the Jewish uprising instead on Hadrian's decision to rebuild Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, a city dedicated to Jupiter.

Antoninus Pius permitted Jews to circumcise their own sons. However, he forbade the circumcision of non-Jews that were either foreign-slaves or non-Jewish members of the household, contrary to Genesis 17:12 He also made it illegal for a man to convert to Judaism.[4] Antoninus Pius exempted the Egyptian priesthood from the otherwise universal ban on circumcision.

Modern Law



A non-binding research paper of the Queensland Law Reform Commission (Circumcision of Male Infants) concluded that "On a strict interpretation of the assault provisions of the Queensland Criminal Code, routine circumcision of a male infant could be regarded as a criminal act", and that doctors who perform circumcision on male infants may be liable to civil claims by that child at a later date.[5] No prosecutions have occurred in Queensland, and circumcisions continue to be performed.

In 1999, a Perth man won $A360,000 in damages after a doctor admitted he botched a circumcision operation at birth which left the man with a badly deformed penis.[6]

In 2002, Queensland police charged a father with grievous bodily harm for having his two sons, then aged nine and five, circumcised without the knowledge and against the wishes of the mother. The mother and father were in a family court dispute. The charges were dropped when the police prosecutor revealed that he did not have all family court paperwork in court and the magistrate refused to grant an adjournment.[7]

Cosmetic circumcision for newborn males is currently banned in all Australian public hospitals, South Australia being the last state to adopt the ban in 2007.[8] In the same year, the Tasmanian President of the Australian Medical Association, Haydn Walters, stated that they would support a call to ban circumcision for non-medical, non-religious reasons.[9] In 2009, the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute released its Issues Paper investigating the law relating to male circumcision in Tasmania, it "highlights the uncertainty in relation to whether doctors can legally perform circumcision on infant males".[10]


Male circumcision was very strongly discouraged in Bulgaria in the 1980s as part of attempts to pressurise the countries muslim minority and although official penalties could be forthcoming there was no actual legislation.[11]


The circumcision of Canadian female children whether performed in Canada or in other countries is "Aggravated Assault", an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada.[12] Circumcision of male children is legal but highly discouraged and is not paid for by any provincial or territorial government health insurance plans.[citation needed]


In June 2007, Egypt banned all female circumcision. The practice, which affects both Muslim and Christian women in Egypt and goes back to the time of the pharaohs, was banned in 1997 but doctors were allowed to operate "in exceptional cases". Health Minister Hatem al-Gabali decided to ban every doctor and member of the medical profession, in public or private establishments, from carrying out a clitoridectomy.[13]

England and Wales

Male circumcision has traditionally been presumed to be legal under British law,[14] however some authors have argued that there is no solid foundation for this view in English law.[15][16]

One 1999 case, Re "J" (child's religious upbringing and circumcision)[17] said that circumcision in Britain required the consent of all those with parental responsibility, or the permission of the court, acting for the best interests of the child, and issued an order prohibiting the circumcision of a male child of a non-practicing Muslim father and non-practicing Christian mother with custody. The reasoning included evidence that circumcision carried some medical risk; that the operation would be likely to weaken the relationship of the child with his mother, who strongly objected to circumcision without medical necessity; that the child may be subject to ridicule by his peers as the odd one out and that the operation might irreversibly reduce sexual pleasure, by permanently removing some sensory nerves, even though cosmetic foreskin restoration might be possible. The court did not rule out circumcision against the consent of one parent. It cited a hypothetical case of a Jewish mother and an agnostic father with a number of sons, all of whom, by agreement, had been circumcised as infants in accordance with Jewish laws; the parents then have another son who is born after they have separated; the mother wishes him to be circumcised like his brothers; the father refuses his agreement. In such a case, a decision in favor of circumcision was said to be likely. The passage of the Human Rights Act 1998 has led to some speculation that the lawfulness of the circumcision of male children is unclear.[18]

In 2001 the General Medical Council had found a doctor who had botched circumcision operations guilty of abusing his professional position and that he had acted "inappropriately and irresponsibly",[19] and struck him off the register[20]. A doctor who had referred patients to him, and who had pressured a mother into agreeing to the surgery, was also condemned.[19] He was put on an 18 month period of review and retraining, and was allowed to resume unrestricted practice as a doctor in March 2003, after a committee found that he had complied with conditions it placed on him. According to the Northern Echo, he "told the committee he has now changed his approach to circumcision referrals, accepting that most cases can be treated without the need for surgery."[20].

Fox and Thomson (2005) argue that consent cannot be given for non-therapeutic circumcision.[21] They say there is "no compelling legal authority for the common view that circumcision is lawful."

In 2009 it was reported that a 20 year old man whose father had him ritually circumcised him as a baby is preparing to sue the doctor who circumcised him. This is believed to be the first time a person who was circumcised as an infant has made a claim in the UK. The case is expected to be heard in 2010.[22]

In 2005 a Muslim man had his son circumcised against the wishes of the child's mother who was the custodial parent. He was found not guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm by a majority verdict of the jury.[23]


In August 2006, a Finnish court ruled that the circumcision of a four-year-old boy arranged by his mother, who is Muslim, to be an illegal assault. The boy's father, who had not been consulted, reported the incident to the police. A local prosecutor stated that the prohibition of genital mutilation is not gender-specific in Finnish law. A lawyer for the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health stated that there is neither legislation nor prohibition on male circumcision, and that "the operations have been performed on the basis of common law." The case was appealed [24] and in October 2008 the Finnish Supreme Court ruled that the circumcision, " carried out for religious and social reasons and in a medical manner, did not have the earmarks of a criminal offence. It pointed out in its ruling that the circumcision of Muslim boys is an established tradition and an integral part of the identity of Muslim men".[25] In 2008, the Finnish government was reported to be considering a new law to legalise circumcision if the practitioner is a doctor and if the child consents.[26]

In February 2010, a Jewish couple were fined for causing bodily harm to their then infant son who was circumcised in 2008 by a mohel brought in from the UK. Normal procedure for persons of Jewish faith in Finland is to have a locally certified mohel who work in Finnish healthcare perform the operation. In the 2008 case, the infant was not anesthetized and developed complications that required immediate hospital care. The parents were ordered to pay 1500 euros in damages to their child.[27]


In October 2006, a Turkish national who performed ritual circumcisions on seven boys was convicted of causing dangerous bodily harm by the state court in Düsseldorf.[28]

In September 2007, a Frankfurt am Main appeals court found that the circumcision of an 11 year old boy without his approval was an unlawful personal injury. Reportedly, the boy, whose parents are divorced, was visiting his Muslim father during a vacation when his father forced him to be ritually circumcised . According to a report by the German ddp press agency, the boy, who lives with his mother, plans to sue his father for 10,000 Euro.[29]


In October 2005 a Nigerian man was cleared of a charge of reckless endangerment over the death of a baby from haemorrhage and shock after he had circumcised the child. The judge directed the jury not to "bring what he called their white western values to bear when they were deciding this case" and after deliberating for an hour and a half they found the defendant not guilty.[30]


In Israel, an attempt in 1999 to have circumcision ruled illegal was rejected by the Israeli Supreme Court.[31]


When Ayaan Hirsi Ali was a Member of the Netherlands Parliament she asked it to consider making the circumcision of male children unlawful.[32]. In May 2008 a father who had his two sons, aged 3 and 6 circumcised against the will of their mother was found not guilty of causing them serious physical harm but was given a 6 week suspended jail sentence for taking the boys away from their mother against her will.[33]

South Africa

The Children's Act 2007 makes the circumcision of male children under 16 unlawful except for religious or medical reasons. Eastern Cape Province passed a law (Application of Health Standards in Traditional Circumcision Act 2001) to regulate traditional circumcision, which causes the death or mutilation of many youths by traditional surgeons each year[34][35]. Among other provisions, the minimum age for circumcision is age 18.

In January 2008 a teenager sued his father and traditional leaders for forcibly circumcising him, demanding an apology.[36] In May 2008 the case was adjourned indefinitely because papers had not been served on Eastern Cape traditional leaders.[37]


In 2001, Sweden allowed only persons certified by the National Board of Health to circumcise infants. It required a medical doctor or an anesthesia nurse to accompany the circumciser and for anaesthetic to be applied beforehand. After the first two months of life circumcisions could only be performed by a physician. Swedish Jews and Muslims objected to the law,[38] and in 2001, the World Jewish Congress stated that it was "the first legal restriction on Jewish religious practice in Europe since the Nazi era."[39] However, in 2006, the U.S. State Department stated, in a report on Sweden, that most Jewish mohels had been certified under the law and 3000 Muslim and 40-50 Jewish boys were circumcised each year. The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare reviewed the law in 2005 and recommended that it be maintained.[40]

United States

In the United States, circumcision is not specifically unlawful. However, some believe that the circumcision of a child violates general laws enacted for the protection of children. Doctors who circumcise children must take care that all applicable rules regarding informed consent are satisfied. If consent is invalid, then a circumcision is a battery.[41] MGM Bill is currently lobbying to extend the ban on female circumcision to males, arguing that banning female circumcision but allowing male circumcision violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[42]

Disputes between parents Occasionally the courts are asked to make a ruling when parents cannot agree on whether or not to circumcise a child.

In January and July 2001 disputes between parents in New Jersey and Kansas over circumcision were resolved when requests to have the boys circumcised were withdrawn[43][44]. In June 2001 a Nevada court settled a dispute over circumcision between two parents but put a strict gag order on the terms of the settlement[45].

On 14 July 2004 a mother appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court to prevent the circumcision of her son after a county court and the Court of Appeals had denied her a writ of prohibition[46]. However, in early August 2004, before the Supreme Court had given its ruling, the father, who had custody of the boy, had him circumcised[47].

In September 2004 the North Dakota Supreme Court rejected a mother's attempt to prosecute her doctor for circumcising her child with her permission.[48]

In February 2004 in California, a man argued that he was Hebrew and circumcised his son out of religious duty. The judge ruled "it is only illegal if one mutilates a female -- there is nothing in the penal code about a male child."[49]. However, in December 2004 in Vancouver, Washington, a man was convicted of second degree child assault after he attempted to circumcise his son with a hunting knife and was sentenced to serve three years in jail.[50]

In October 2006 a judge in Chicago granted an injunction blocking the circumcision of a 9 year old boy. "The judge said the boy could decide for himself whether to be circumcised when he turns 18."[51]

In November 2007, the Oregon Supreme Court heard arguments from a divorced Oregon couple over the circumcision of their son. The father wants his son, who turned 13 on 2 March 2008, to be circumcised; the child's mother opposes the procedure. The parents dispute whether the boy is in favor of the procedure. A group opposed to circumcision filed briefs in support of the mother's position, while some Jewish groups filed a brief in support of the father.[52] On 25 January 2008, the Court returned the case to the trial court with instructions to determine whether the child agrees or objects to the proposed circumcision.[53] The father appealed to the US Supreme Court to allow him to have his son circumcised[54] but his appeal was rejected. The case now returns to the trial court.[55]

CNN reported in 2005 that a California group has submitted to Congress a bill entitled the "Male Genital Mutilation Bill". The report stated that while it unlikely the bill will go anywhere in the near future, it raises important questions about gender equality, religious freedom, and the protection of children.[56]

In March 2009 a Fulton County, Ga., State Court jury awarded $2.3 million in damages to a 4-year-old boy and his mother for a botched circumcision in which too much tissue was removed causing permanent disfigurement.[57]


In the USSR, before glasnost, Jewish ritual circumcision was forbidden.[58]

Forced Circumcision

There have been instances of circumcisions forced on people against their will.[59] In Africa, forced circumcisions have occurred in Kenya in 2002,[60] 2006 [61] and in the ethnic conflicts that followed the election on 27 December 2007 [62], and also among the Bagishu people of Eastern Uganda (2007),[63] and the Xhosa of South Africa (2004).[64] Forced circumcisions also occurred in ethnic/religious conflicts in the Sudan (2003),[65] during the Armenian Genocide (1915–1918),[66] and also as part of forced religious conversions in both Pakistan (2004)[67] and Indonesia (2001).[68][69] There was a report of forced circumcisions during an anti-Greek pogrom in Turkey in 1955.[70] In a case of sexual assault in Queensland, Australia (1997), a district court awarded a man damages for nervous shock after a botched attempt to circumcise him with a broken beer bottle in a drunken attack. Making Australian legal history, the award was made against the assailant for unlawful wounding.[71]


  1. ^ Hodges, Frederick M. (2001). [ "The Ideal Prepuce in Ancient Greece and Rome: Male Genital Aesthetics and Their Relation to Lipodermos, Circumcision, Foreskin Restoration, and the Kynodesme"]. Bulletin of the History of Medicine 75: 375–405. doi:10.1353/bhm.2001.0119. Retrieved 2008-01-22. 
  2. ^ The Ideal Prepuce in Ancient Greece and Rome
  3. ^ See, e.g., Alfredo M. Rabello, The Ban on Circumcision as a Cause of Bar Kokhba’s Rebellion, 29 ISRAEL L. REV. 176 (1995) (Arguing that the Bar Kokhba rebellion against Roman rule was primarily motivated by the superimposition of foreign religious standards, rather than by some important notion of independence or sovereignty).
  4. ^ Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.03.29
  5. ^ QLRC: Circumcision of Male Infants
  6. ^ Man Receives $360,000 Compensation for Childhood Circumcision
  7. ^ Mother's Fury as Boys Circumcised
  8. ^ "Public hospitals ban circumcision". The Australian. 2007-11-12.,25197,22744548-5006787,00.html. .
  9. ^ "Doctors back call for circumcision ban". ABC News. 2007-12-09. 
  10. ^ "Male circumcision". Tasmanian Law Reform Institute. 
  11. ^ 'Under the Fez and the Foreskin', p113, The Orient Within (Cornell University Press, 2004)
  12. ^
  13. ^ (Broken link?)
  14. ^ Poulter, Sebastian (1986). English Criminal Law and Ethnic Minority Customs. Butterworths,London. ISBN 00113259765. " , no amount of parental agreement or support can legitimise the circumcision, excision or infibulation of a young girl in this country, unless the operation is for therapeutic purposes." 
  15. ^ A covenant with the status quo? Male circumcision and the new BMA guidance to doctors
  16. ^ Christopher Price M.A.(Oxon), Male Circumcision: An Ethical and Legal Affront, 1997
  17. ^ Re J (child's religious upbringing and circumcision)
  18. ^ Circumcision After the Human Rights Act 1998
  19. ^ a b BBC News | HEALTH | Circumcision doctors 'abused position'
  20. ^ a b Circumcision case GP told he can resume career
  21. ^ A covenant with the status quo? Male circumcision and the new BMA guidance to doctors
  22. ^
  23. ^ icNetwork - Local and regional news, sport, entertainment and classifieds across the UK
  24. ^ "Court rules circumcision of four-year-old boy illegal". 
  25. ^
  26. ^ "Finland Considers Legalising Male Circumcision". Ylesiradio. 2008-08-02. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  27. ^ "Parents Ordered to Pay Circumcised Son 1,500 Euros". Finnish Broadcasting Corporation. 2010-02-24. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  28. ^ The Raw Story | Germany fines circumciser for initiation of 7 boys
  29. ^ Breaking News - JTA, Jewish & Israel News
  30. ^ RTÉ News: Nigerian cleared over circumcision death
  31. ^ NOCIRC NEWSLTTR reordered2
  32. ^ Dutch MP wants ban on male circumcision
  33. ^ - Father 'not guilty' in circumcision case
  34. ^ CRIN - Violence Study - SOUTH AFRICA: Clamping down on botched circumcisions
  35. ^ IRIN In-Depth | Southern Africa | South Africa | SOUTH AFRICA: Clamping down on botched circumcisions | HIV/AIDS (PlusNews) | In-Depth
  36. ^ Teen sues father after forced circumcision
  37. ^ Daily Dispatch Online
  38. ^ "Sweden restricts circumcisions". BBC Europe. October 1, 2001. Retrieved 2006-10-18. "Swedish Jews and Muslims object to the new law, saying it violates their religious rights." 
  39. ^ "Jews protest Swedish circumcision restriction". Reuters. 2001-06-07. "A WJC spokesman said, "This is the first legal restriction placed on a Jewish rite in Europe since the Nazi era. This new legislation is totally unacceptable to the Swedish Jewish community."" 
  40. ^ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (September 15, 2006). "Sweden". International Religious Freedom Report 2006. US Department of State. Retrieved 2007-07-04. 
  41. ^ Informed Consent for Neonatal Circumcision
  42. ^
  43. ^ Accord Not To Circumcise Son Still Leaves Heated Legal Debate
  44. ^ Agreement reached in circumcision case
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^ North Dakota Supreme Court rejects circumcision appeal
  49. ^ Couple rescued from flood gets children back
  50. ^ Circumcision Attempt - Father sentenced to three years
  51. ^ Judge protects child's legal right to bodily integrity
  52. ^ Gerstein, Josh. "Ore. Court Mulls Circumcision Case". The New York Sun. Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
  53. ^ Oregon Judicial Department Appellate Court Opinions
  54. ^ Dad appeals teen son's circumcision to U.S. Supreme Court - Breaking News Updates from Portland and Oregon - The Oregonian -
  55. ^
  56. ^ Colb, Sherry (April 8, 2005). "A proposed bill to ban male circumcision". CNN. 
  57. ^ Katheryn Hayes Tucker (March 31, 2009). "Jury Awards $2.3 Million for Botched Circumcision". 
  58. ^ Soviet Jews Of All Ages Seek Circumcision
  59. ^ "Circumcised by force". Journal of Medical Ethics. 18 July 2007. 
  60. ^ "Man Forcibly Circumcised As Crowd Watches". THE NATION, Nairobi, Kenya. 23 August 2002. 
  61. ^ Wanzala, Ouma (August 18, 2006). "Man held over circumcision incident". Kenya Times. Retrieved 2007-04-23. "Police in Busia have arrested one of the men said to have forcibly circumcised two men on Saturday in Nambale town.…He assured the members of the public who do not practice circumcision that no one will be allowed to harass them." 
  62. ^ Dixon, Robyn (January 9, 2008). "Forced circumcision reported in Kenya".,0,5989499.story. Retrieved 2008-01-13. " In the recent tribal violence triggered by a disputed December 27 election, circumcision checks have been conducted by roaming gangs of killers hunting for Luos. And the threat of forced circumcision has been used to terrify Luo men. The number of such assaults so far appears small. The hospital here in Limuru, 30 miles northwest of Nairobi, confirmed that two cases of forced circumcision were treated after Sunday's violence, which saw members of the larger Kikuyu tribe evict hundreds of Luos from their homes. One case involved an adult, the other a 4-month-old." 
  63. ^ Ssendi, Peterson (March 23, 2007). "Ugandan Ethnic Group Criticized for Forced Male Circumcision". Africa News & Features. Voice of America. Retrieved 2007-04-23. "A man was yesterday forcibly circumcised by traditional surgeons in Mumias-Butere District as police watched helplessly.…District Commissioner Ernest Munyi expressed shock at the incident and told police to crack down on traditional surgeons involved in forcible circumcision." 
  64. ^ Peters, Melanie (July 4, 2004). "Rastafarian circumcised against his will". South Africa. Sunday Tribune. p. 3. Retrieved 2007-04-23. " 22-year-old Cape Town man was taken by force and circumcised against his will this week.…He is a Rastafarian convert and strongly opposes Xhosa initiation. The men who forcibly circumcised him also cut off his Rasta dreadlocks." 
  65. ^ Michael Coren (25 November 2003). "Sudan's slaves". Frontpage, Toronto, Ontario. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  66. ^ "The History Place: Genocide in the 20th Century". The History Place. 2000. Retrieved 2007-03-18. " "In many cases, young Armenian children were spared from deportation by local Turks who took them from their families. The children were coerced into denouncing Christianity and becoming Muslims.…For Armenian boys the forced conversion meant they each had to endure painful circumcision as required by Islamic custom." " 
  67. ^ (5 October 2004). "Christian minorities in Pakistan: little freedom and rising Islamic pressure". Retrieved 2007-03-18. " he Justice and Peace Commission of Lahor has spoken out against cases of forced conversions: "Young non-Muslim men have been forced to convert and circumcised against their will," reports Peter Jacob, Commission secretary. " 
  68. ^ Mr Oaten. "Hansard, 25 April 2001". United Kingdom Parliament. " " The forced religious conversions are still taking place. There are appalling cases of the forced circumcision of children as young as six. ... All that, I am told, sometimes takes place with the Indonesian army watching and, on occasion, handing out medicine to those who have undergone forced circumcision.." " 
  69. ^ Lindsay Murdoch (27 January 2001). "Terror attacks in the name of religion". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  70. ^ George Gilson (24 June 2005). "Destroying a minority: Turkey's attack on the Greeks". Athens News. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  71. ^ "Man sues for circumcision", (October 9, 1997) Daily Dispatch

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