German court rules non-consensual genital mutilation as assault: what will the future hold?

A bit of news I missed from last week: a German court has ruled that ritual circumcision of boys amounts to grievous bodily harm,  and ought not to be practised on children unable to consent.

The regional court in Cologne, western Germany, ruled on Tuesday that the “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents”, a judgement that is expected to set a legal precedent.

“The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised, if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised,” the court said.

This is a big victory for bodily autonomy here, placing this right above any others, including carrying with it the implicit assumption that parents do not always know best for their children.

In an ideal world, of course, we would not need to be having this discussion: people would just know it was a bad idea to lop bits of genitals off someone without their consent because it might have been a good idea among a desert-dwelling nomadic people in the Bronze Age, and they would not do it. It is unfortunate that it requires state intervention to get this message across.

Using state intervention to rule for the essential right of bodily autonomy is problematic. Firstly, it has caused outrage and accusations of persecution from those who practice ritual circumcision, who view this risky and unconsensual procedure as an essential part of their cultural heritage. This may provoke tensions.

Secondly (and relatedly), state intervention does nothing to address the root causes of ritual circumcision: the genuine belief among many that this is what ought to be done because a possibly fictional book says so. Due to this rather dangerous belief, I am concerned the practice will continue anyway, in back rooms or by crossing borders to every other country in the world that fails to respect bodily autonomy. As for those boys whose parents followed the law, what might be their fate? The court has explicitly protected the parents’ “right” to “educate”, suggesting that these boys will be bombarded with “information” about why their bodies are dirty and disgusting and they should undergo a procedure that carries risks as soon as the law will allow it.

In this situation, is it really any more consensual than hacking a bit of penis off a baby?

And this is the thing that really needs to change, a shift in thinking from archaic tradition to a respect of bodily autonomy. It is one thing for someone to decide to remove their foreskin because they like the way it looks, or it’s a kink. It is quite another for this procedure to be performed on someone without their consent, or under conditions of coercive misinformation. Religion has an ugly habit of poking around in our pants and, as with issues such as clitoridectomies and abortion, it needs to stop.

Perhaps the use of state intervention will promote discussion of these issues, awareness of the absolute deal-breaker that is bodily autonomy. Perhaps it will provoke a slow shift towards religion relaxing its grasp on people’s genitals. This is the route that thought must go, rather than reaction and backlash and searching for loopholes.

What a person does with their body must be a free choice.


4 responses to “German court rules non-consensual genital mutilation as assault: what will the future hold?

  • NellaLou

    This brings to mind the current push to circumcise many in Africa under the assumption it helps prevent AIDS. The studies done on that are fraught with problems. Some people question the actual motives of the foreign groups which are promoting it and some African media [ for example http://allafrica.com/stories/201207021165.html ] are strongly questioning it as well.

    I like your viewpoint here.

  • jemima101

    Carter blogged on this at the weekend sharing your opinion on the overriding need for bodily autonomy. I have never understood why MFM is considered acceptable.http://itsjustahobby.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/coming-from-the-left/

  • Miss_Marbles

    Amen! Evolution put body parts there for a REASON. How sad that people can be robbed of something without their consent.

  • Cees van der Duin

    Germany:
    Activists File Complaint Against § 1631d BGB

    December 2013 — German intactivist movement tries to tackle circumcision law. Since december 2012 a circumcision law (§ 1631d BGB) principally allows parents to circumcize their son as desired. Now activists against HGM or any ritual mutilation (i. e. FGM and MGM) have written a petition to the German Supreme Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) and demand that the § 1631d BGB is declared as not being in accordance with the German constitution. Instead they call for an end of all circumcisions done without medical necessity.

    27. Dezember 2013
    an das
    Bundesverfassungsgericht
    Karlsruhe

    Beschwerde gegen das Bundesgesetz über den Umfang der Personensorge bei einer Beschneidung des männlichen Kindes

    Die Beschwerdeführer legen daher gegen dieses Gesetz Beschwerde ein und beantragen durch eine einstweilige Anordnung nach § 32 Abs. 1 BVerfGG diese Vorschrift sofort außer Kraft zu setzen, um alle medizinisch nicht erforderlichen Beschneidungen, insbesondere Rituale wie Metzitzah B’Peh, pria und Praktiken wie im folgenden Link beschrieben, die sicherlich mit einer Zirkumzision lege artis nicht zu vereinbaren sind, trotzdem aber durchgeführt werden, zu verbieten bis das hohe Gericht über die Verfassungsbeschwerde entschieden hat.

    Die Beschwerdeführer beantragen zudem, die nicht medizinisch indizierte MGM an nicht einwilligungs- und urteilsfähigen Jungen auf die Liste der Auslandsstraftaten zu setzen, um sowohl Beschneidungstourismus zu verhindern als auch die gegebenenfalls erforderliche Strafverfolgung ortsunabhängig zu gewährleisten.

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