AIGA does not seek to attack or restrict the freedom of any adult’s religious or cultural beliefs or tradition, but to bring ancient religious and cultural practice up date with modern facts and ethical standards, in particular the emergence of individual Rights of the Child in international law in the last 30 years.
At the heart of this conflict is the question whether babies and children are people and whether they have any human rights at all before the day they turn 18. When the Human Rights of two people clash with each other, something has to give.
Clearly the Right of Genital Autonomy in babies and children may conflict with other human rights of adults to hold religious beliefs and to act on them. Everyone has the right to BELIEVE what they like, but do they have the right to DO what they believe is their religious obligation, regardless of the rights of others?
Cutting children’s genitals is sometimes done because parents believe their religion demands that they do it, or recommends they do it. All children are born into an existing culture and some parents say that their culture requires or allows them to cut their children’s flesh, in the genitals, on the forehead and elsewhere. These parents often say that their right to freedom of conscience and belief translates to the right to practice their religion however they like. These rights are entrenched in a number of Human Rights declarations, conventions and laws.
Our laws and culture recognise that religious and cultural rights of parents are not unlimited. So we have laws for compulsory health care and education of children, and for protection from physical and emotional violence regardless of a parent’s faith. Medically unnecessary cutting of girls’ genitals has been outlawed for a number of reasons, but still happens for the religion and culture of the parents in Australia and next door in Indonesia and other SE Asian countries.
It is not true to say that Islam promotes FGM/C. Some Muslims do believe cutting girls’ genitals is obligatory, some believe it is desirable and some believe it is forbidden. While it is still true that mainstream Jewish religion and secular Jewish culture still promote MGM/C, there is a growing body of Jewish study that interprets the obligation differently and without bloodshed. Many Jewish communities and families around the world do not practice genital cutting on their babies and children, either because they do not think it necessary, and increasingly because they find it abhorrent.
The child’s Right of Genital Autonomy is therefore inconsistent with a parent’s completely unlimited right to practice their religion and culture if that includes cutting the flesh of their child. How do we resolve this conflict? AIGA says that parents have the right and the responsibility to bring their children up as they see fit, but whole and safe from unnecessary risk until they are old enough to decide for themselves if they want genital surgery for their own cultural, religious or cosmetic reasons.
Parents have the right “to provide direction to the child in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.” [UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 14]. Whatever their religious beliefs, the actions of their parents should not cut off their children’s freedom of choice as they grow up.
History and tradition are not a logical argument for the justice or correctness of a practice, and all culture evolves over time. The end of religious child sacrifice is one example though for centuries it was common in many religions and cultures. In rare cases even that is still practised in some parts of the world as part of religious ritual, but it cannot be justified in the 21st Century.