Denmark set to vote on circumcision ban, will other countries follow?

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Denmark has long been a world leader when it comes to liberal social reforms. It was the first country to legalise same sex marriage and pornography, and now it could become the first country in the world to ban circumcision.

A citizen's petition to outlaw non-medical circumcision under the age of 18 is currently before the parliament after it reached 50,000 signatures. Reaching 50,000 signatures means politicians will be forced to vote on whether parents should have the right to circumcise their sons (as in most countries, it is already illegal to circumcise girls).

Lena Nyhus, chair of Intact Denmark told ABC's Radio National that they are not lobbying for the banning of circumcision, but rather that adults should be able to make an informed decision about their own circumcision, rather than having it thrust upon them without their consent.

"It's not a petition to ban circumcision," she said. "It's a petition to protect the genital integrity and autonomy of children, regardless of gender. So all we're asking is for an 18-year age limit."

Lena says the current laws allowing circumcision are hypocritical.

"In Scandinavia, we have protected children's bodily integrity and autonomy for many years. For instance we don't allow physical discipline of children, and haven't allowed that for 20 years. So it's counter-intuitive if parents are allowed to raise children with scalpels when they're not allowed to smack their children.

"It's an infringement on the child's – and the person's – individual rights, and yes it can be cruel."

Lena says 80 per cent of the Danish public support the ban.

The swing against circumcision across the world has been a swift one, with the trend quickly becoming more of a niche choice for parents.

Advertisement

"Circumcision used to be routinely performed in Australia, with over 80 per cent of boys being circumcised in the 1950s for health and hygiene reasons," says Dr Aifric Boylan, GP and CEO of Qoctor, the quick online doctor.

"The Royal Australasian College of Physicians now recommends against routine circumcision, as they believe the potential complication rates generally outweigh the benefits. However, they state that it's reasonable for parents to weigh the pros and cons and make their own informed decision – that parental choice should be respected."

Most Australian parents are electing not to circumcise their sons. According to Medicare records, there were only 6309 newborn males circumcised in the 2016/17 financial year. That's around 4 per cent of baby boys born during that time, and around a quarter of the rate just a decade ago.

Jennifer Rimes, mum of two boys from Brisbane, says, "I think it should be banned, except for medical reasons. Why should parents be given the right to do that? Why cut off a perfect part of your baby? Just teach your son to wash properly and use condoms when having sex, and all the 'reasons' people offer up suddenly evaporate."

Mardi Hall, mum of one boy from Perth, says, "Do we allow parents to circumcise their daughters? No? Then why allow them to do it to their sons? No good reason that I can see."

Others think a ban is unnecessary.

"There is no reason to make it illegal," says Adelaide mother of two boys Sally Powell. "There is no evidence that shows circumcision does anything but help long-term health of boys and men. It should be left up to the parents."

Brisbane dad of one boy Jason Difranco says it should be a decision made by the parents. "If parents want to go with circumcision then they should be able to," he says. "This is a personal matter in families and it holds a powerful meaning for many families and their culture."

Dr Boylan says the medical benefits of circumcision are negligible, and that safe sex practices are a far more effective method of preventing STIs and rare conditions such as penile cancer. Equally, medical complications requiring circumcision are also rare.

"It's relatively uncommon for circumcision to be required for medical reasons," says Dr Boylan. Potential indications include recurrent balanitis (infection under the foreskin) or abnormal tightness of the foreskin (phimosis). However, in most cases these conditions can be treated without the need for an operation (for example, with topical steroid creams)."

The rest of the world will be watching as Denmark's parliament puts a ban on circumcision under 18 to the vote. Is it a matter of protecting the human rights of children, or should it be the choice of the parents?