Attorneys for the Rights of the Child

2961 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94705 Phone 510-827-5771

CONTACT: J. Steven Svoboda, Esq., 1-510-595-5550

Attention: Health Editor

Swedish Parliament Scrutinizes Male Circumcision as a Violation of Human Rights

The Swedish Parliament has overwhelmingly passed a new law to regulate male circumcision with the purpose of protecting the human rights of the child. The Parliament voted decisively, 249 to 10, in favor of the new law, whose preliminaries also mandate a study to determine what effect the new law will have and whether male circumcision should be considered a human rights violation. The law is in the process of being enacted. Many Swedish Members of Parliament stated that male circumcision violates children’s rights. Several Members of Parliament stated that only an outright ban on circumcision of all minors would be consistent with the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This marks the first time the circumcision of males under the age of majority has been officially accepted for study by a national government as a human rights issue. Sweden’s is the first law in modern times to regulate and restrict the practice of male circumcision.

All licensed practitioners of male circumcision are now required by law to use anesthesia and to perform the procedure in hospitals or under similar conditions. A temporary exception was included to allow licensed Jewish practitioners of male circumcision (mohelim) to perform the procedure in hospitals or under similar conditions using anesthesia, but only during the first two months of a child’s life. Thereafter, ritual circumcisions performed by anyone other than a medical doctor are not allowed. Violation of the law will result in punishment of up to 6 months in prison or a fine of an individually determined amount based on income.

Sweden has a history of pioneering human rights legislation and not one legislator claimed medically unnecessary circumcision was a legitimate procedure. The 10 dissenters objected only because they supported total criminalization, rather than mere regulation, of non-therapeutic circumcision of male children, and without any temporary religious exception.

J. Steven Svoboda, Executive Director of Attorneys for the Rights of the Child, stated, “This historic decision by Sweden represents a turning point in history. Again, Sweden has demonstrated its concern for human rights. It is regrettable that the initial version of the bill, which would have banned outright all circumcisions of male minors, did not pass. Nevertheless, we congratulate Sweden for acknowledging that males’ right to genital integrity deserves serious evaluation as a human rights concern.”

In 1982, Sweden became the first developed country to outlaw female circumcision. This law was strengthened in 1998. Following Sweden’s lead, many countries, including the United States, Canada, and Australia, have recently passed laws criminalizing female circumcision. Human rights organizations and legal scholars in each of these countries have pointed out that laws prohibiting only female genital cutting are discriminatory and violate national equal protection laws and international human rights laws. Worldwide, in the last four years every national professional medical association, which has issued a recommendation regarding routine male circumcision, has recommended against the practice.