Religious groups around the world are decrying legislation introduced in Iceland that would make it illegal to circumcise male babies for non-medical reasons.
The bill, proposed earlier this month by Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir — a member of the country’s parliament from the Progressive Party — would slap a 6-year prison sentence on anyone found guilty of “removing part or all of the (child’s) sexual organs,” the BBC reported.
Because babies are not old enough to give their consent, the legislation claims it’s not right to carry out a procedure involving “permanent interventions in a child’s body that can cause severe pain.”
“Those procedures are unnecessary, done without their informed consent, non-reversible and can cause all kinds of severe complications, disfigurations and even death,” Gunnarsdóttir stated, as reported by CNN.
She sees this as an issue of “children’s rights, not about freedom of belief,” saying, “Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to believe.”
Gunnarsdóttir believes circumcision — defined as the removal of the foreskin from a newborn male’s penis — is the equivalent of female genital mutilation, which was outlawed in Iceland in 2005.
But circumcision is an important custom among orthodox Jewish people, who teach that God told their forefathers to circumcise all of their baby boys on the eighth day after birth.
As result, Jewish groups have lambasted the proposed legislation.
“Iceland would be the only country to ban one of the most central, if not the most central rite in the Jewish tradition in modern times,” the leaders of the Jewish communities in Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden said in a joint statement.
“(Y)ou are about to attack Judaism in a way that concerns Jews all over the world,” the statement continued. “If any country with next to no Christian inhabitants would ban a central rite in Christianity, like communion for instance, we are certain that the whole Christian world would react as well.”
Milah U.K., a British-based organization that exists to protect the right of Jewish people to carry out religious circumcisions, expressed similar sentiments.
“For a country such as Iceland, that considers itself a liberal democracy, to ban it, thus making sustainable Jewish life in the country impossible, is extremely concerning,” the group told USA Today.
It’s estimated that across the globe, about one-third of males have been circumcised. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics determined that although the benefits of circumcision do not warrant a recommendation that it become a routine procedure, the positives outweigh the risks.
“The health benefits of circumcision include lower risks of acquiring HIV, genital herpes, human papilloma virus and syphilis. Circumcision also lowers the risk of penile cancer over a lifetime; reduces the risk of cervical cancer in sexual partners, and lowers the risk of urinary tract infections in the first year of life,” the group said at the time.
Muslims, who also circumcise their male babies, are similarly upset about the proposed legislation.
The bill is a “violation to the right of religious freedom,” said Imam Ahmad Seddeeq of the Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland.
It’s estimated that there about 250 Jews and 1,500 Muslims living in Iceland.
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