Circumcision is a relatively popular procedure that is prevalent in certain cultures and communities. In males, circumcision is performed in the infantry and involves the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis. Female circumcision, on the other hand, includes “partial or total removal of the clitoris, labia minora, labia majora, or a combination of cutting techniques, resulting in lasting physical and mental distress” (Ruderman, 2014, p. 95). Both procedures are frequently performed on young children who are unable to provide informed consent, which creates a variety of ethical and human rights concerns.
Male circumcision is widespread all over the world and is among the most popular surgical procedures: according to Morris et al. (2016), between 37 and 39 percent of males are circumcised worldwide, half of them – for religious or cultural reasons. Circumcision is considered to have a variety of health benefits for men. For instance, it decreases heterosexual HIV transmission by over 50 percent (Jacobs, 2013), which is why it is among the recommended practices for HIV prevention in regions with a high prevalence of HIV.
Moreover, it can also decrease the risk of HPV, herpes simplex, and trichomonas in males and their sexual partners (Jacobs, 2013). Nevertheless, the benefits of the procedure are slightly dimmed by the ethical and legal considerations surrounding it. First, even though the rates of mortality and complications following infant male circumcision are relatively low, there is still a risk that surgical revision will be required or that the health of the infant will be affected.
Of course, every surgical procedure has risks; however, when the surgery is driven by the therapeutic needs of the patient, these risks are outweighed by the health benefits of the treatment. In most cases, male circumcision is non-therapeutic and driven by culture, religion, or parents’ preference. In a way, it can be compared to a plastic surgery performed on an infant who cannot consent to the procedure. Thus, male infant circumcision is a violation of the child’s bodily integrity and is a human rights issue.
Female circumcision, also referred to as female genital cutting (FGC), on the other hand, is considered to be much worse than male circumcision as it leads to a variety of psychological and health repercussions. It is performed in certain cultures, where it has been a traditional practice since antiquity (Vissandjée, Denetto, Migliardi, & Proctor, 2014). In at least 26 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, female circumcision is considered a normal procedure and is performed on female infants, children, adolescents, and even adults (Vissandjée et al., 2014). The ethical and human rights concern with regards to the circumcision of females lies at the core of the practice, which is motivated by increased control of female sexuality and chastity in patriarchal societies (Vissandjée et al., 2014).
In many communities, female circumcision is performed without anesthesia and proper hygiene measures, which increases physical and mental health risks. Girls may experience severe pain and distress during and after the procedure (Vissandjée et al., 2014). Poor sanitation can also lead to inflammation and infection, increasing the risks of complications and mortality. Finally, the sexual lives of women who undergo the procedure are affected. Given that there are no therapeutic benefits of the procedure, it should be considered a severe violation of ethics and human rights.
Overall, both male and female circumcision are questionable practices that require the attention of the world’s health and human rights organization. However, male circumcision is somewhat justified by its health benefits and may be necessary in certain areas of the world where the prevalence of STDs and HIV is high. In the case of female circumcision, on the other hand, the mental and physical health costs far outweigh the perceived benefits, which is why this procedure is a severe violation of human rights and cannot be considered ethical.
Jacobs, A. J. (2013). The ethic of circumcision of male infants. The Israeli Medical Association Journal, 15(1), pp. 60-65.
Morris, B. J., Wamai, R. G., Henebeng, E. B., Tobian, A. A., Klausner, J. D., Banerjee, J., & Hankins, C. A. (2016). Estimation of the country-specific and global prevalence of male circumcision. Population Health Metrics, 14(1), 4-17.
Ruderman, R. (2013). Female circumcision: The ethics of harm reduction policies. Michigan Journal of Public Affairs, 10(1), 95-107.
Vissandjée, B., Denetto, S., Migliardi, P., & Proctor, J. (2014). Female genital cutting (FGC) and the ethics of care: Community engagement and cultural sensitivity at the interface of migration experiences. BMC International Health and Human Rights, 14(1), 13-23.