Two Austrian circumcisers, a rabbi and a mohel of Vienna, are facing criminal charges of inflicting grievous bodily harm. The charges mention the child’s right to physical integrity, the absence of informed consent, and that religious motivation does not excuse the wrongful act.

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Steven Svoboda
Attorneys for the Rights of the Child


Rothwangl Sepp

Charges brought against two religious circumcisers for the first time in Austria

Criminal charge:
Grievous bodily harm inflicted on at least 2000 babies and small children

(Vienna, 29 November 2012) – Charges are being brought against the community rabbi and mohel of the Jewish Religious Community in Vienna. The rabbi has stated himself that for religious reasons he has performed operations, where there was no medical indication, on the genitals of over 1000 male babies. The second accused is a general practitioner who runs a circumcision centre in Vienna and is specialized in ritual Islamic circumcision. He is also the president of the Islamic Religious Community in Vienna. On his website he proudly presents photos of circumcised children online. The doctor also faces charges by the disciplinary commission of the Chamber of Doctors. The rabbi will also be charged for violation of medical law.

Circumcision is a severe trauma for children

“The removal of the penis foreskin is a surgical operation on the physical integrity of the patient. In cases where there are no medical reasons, it is a matter of deliberate grievous bodily harm,” explains Anja Oberkofler, lawyer. Even nowadays the operation is often carried out without an anaesthetic and is extremely painful: babies have no protective mechanism and because of the shock often fall into a momentary coma. The circumcision ritual is often performed without any explanation and frequently also without any anaesthetic; for little boys aged between 6 and 8 this causes severe trauma. The foreskin is the most sensitive part of the penis and thus highly erogenous tissue. When it is removed the glans is covered by a layer of hard skin. This can result in the loss of sexual sensitivity and a limited ability to achieve an orgasm, as testified by many of those affected. Possible complications can occur after the operation such as bleeding or mutilation: according to current medical information the ratio is between 2 and 10 per cent.

Religiously motivated bodily harm is not per se exempt from punishment

A further reason for the charge: for an operation with such grave consequences it is necessary to gain the consent of the person concerned. This does not occur in the case of babies and children. As lawyer Oberkofler stated, “It is incomprehensible why religious approval to inflict grievous bodily harm should be exempt from punishment.” Austria has signed the UNO convention on the rights of children which contains a regulation concerning punishment for the circumcision of children due to religious reasons. The right of protection of bodily integrity is also anchored in the Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union. “The fundamental right of the child to have physical integrity ensured cannot be annulled by arguing for the religious freedom of the parents. The religious freedom of the parents in bringing up their children ends where grievous bodily harm inflicted on their child begins”, she says.

Charge brought by victim of abuse and circumcision

The charge is being brought by Sepp Rothwangl, who was subject to sexual abuse in his childhood by a member of the church. “Nowadays I see it as my duty to ensure that children should not suffer physical and emotional harm because of religious privileges which go unpunished.” Rothwangl has also been instrumental in organizing the campaign against church privileges; signatures are at present being collected for this campaign. “I am totally against special rights for religious communities, because it should not be allowed to mutilate children’s sexual organs in the name of religion without being punished,” stated Rothwangl. “This is where civil society and the rule of law have to intervene.” The campaign against church privileges is therefore also in favour of bringing the current criminal charges.

Afflicted persons break their silence

The second person bringing charges is Cahit Kaya, who was circumcised as a child according to Islamic ritual. “I would have liked to have had the freedom myself to decide whether I would be circumcised or not”, says Kaya today. “But without my consent, without any information and without any preparation on the part of the doctor nor on the part of my parents, I was circumcised in a state hospital in Vorarlberg. Many Moslems suffer a great deal from the sexual consequences of their circumcision and are ashamed to have been a victim of this operation. If they do indeed talk about it, then only in their very closest circle of friends. This silence finally has to be broken.”

For press enquiries: Campaign against Church Privileges (Initiative gegen Kirchenprivilegien)

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