Iceland may become the first European country to ban male circumcision.
A fierce debate is raging in Iceland, as new legislation is being considered that would impose a six-year jail term for anyone who circumcises a child for non-medical reasons.
The bill, which is currently before the Icelandic parliament, was introduced earlier this month by MP Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir of the Progressive Party. With the support of eight other MPs, the bill says that circumcision violates human rights as outlined by the United Nations. If the legislation passes, individuals who carry out a circumcision on a child for non-medical reasons could face up to six years in prison.
“In recent years,” the bill states, “the view has become widespread, and is quite prevalent in Europe, that circumcision carried out for any purpose other than health reasons is a violation of the human rights of boys due to irreversible interventions to their bodies in which they have not had a say.”
The bill continues to assert that circumcisions are carried out “in homes that are not sterile, and not by doctors, but by religious leaders. There is a high risk of infections under such conditions that may lead to death.”
Supporters of the bill assert that while parents retain the right to offer religious guidance to their children, those rights “can never exceed the rights of the child.” According to the Guardian, the bill suggests that children who wish to be circumcised for religious reasons can do so when they are old enough to understand and consent to such a procedure.
In 2005, Iceland outlawed female circumcision, often referred to as female genital mutilation, to prevent procedures that alter or injure female genital organs. Iceland leads the way when it comes to gender equality, last year making it illegal for companies to pay men more than they pay women.
Male circumcision is one of the most common medical procedures performed worldwide, with studies showing more than one in three men to be circumcised. The procedure, which is often done shortly after birth for religious reasons, involves removing the foreskin from the penis. In some cases, circumcision is performed during childhood or early adolescence as a rite of passage. The Jewish and Muslim faiths typically circumcise their sons to confirm their relationship with God.
While the bill has widespread government and popular support, some religious leaders around Europe are outraged. With a population of 336,000, only 250 of which are Jewish and 1,500 Muslim, some people are worried that the legislation targets certain religions and may even lead to anti-Semitism. The Bishop of Iceland, Agnes M Sigurðardóttir, criticizes the bill and instead suggests a ban on unsafe circumcision.
Male circumcision is “a non-negotiable element of Jewish identity,” a spokesman for Milah UK, a Jewish campaign group, told The Guardian, adding that Iceland’s proposed ban is “extremely concerning.”
The proposed legislation has a long way to go. If the bill passes its first reading, the draft law will need to go to a committee stage for several months before it becomes law.
There is significant disagreement worldwide regarding the potential harms and benefits of circumcision. Circumcision rates in the U.S. are steadily declining.
According to a 2017 statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Although health benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all male newborns, the benefits of circumcision are sufficient to justify access to this procedure for families choosing it and to warrant third-party payment for circumcision of male newborns.”