Iceland made headlines around the world as a proposed bill to ban the circumcision of young males raised attention. Circumcision of young male has featured prominently in the national debate recently due to the bill. The proposed bill claims that non-medical circumcision of boys violates their human rights, as they have no say in the decision. Circumcision of young females has been banned since 2005, and the bill proposes that the law should also include a ban on the circumcision of young males. The bill has raised quite the furore as both Jewish and Muslim religious leaders have denounced it.
Inclusion of boys
The matter revolves around a bill that was proposed by Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir from the Progressive Party, a centre-right, populist party, along with eight other members of Parliament from across the political spectrum. The law currently states that the circumcisions of young girls is in fact assault, that inflicts damage on individuals, and that removing genitals, whether partially or wholly, will lead to a 6-year prison sentence. The bill was first proposed on the 30th of January and is now being debated in Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament. The change mainly revolves around wording, as the law would now include boys, as well as girls.
A matter of human rights
It is safe to say that the public opinion in Iceland is generally positive towards the bill. The thinking goes so that adults should not affect young children’s lives with a decision that they do not have a say in. Furthermore, the procedure could affect the health of the child, as there is some danger of an infection, or further complications with the surgery. It is first and foremost an issue of protecting the child as the operation is an irredeemable operation that the children have no say in. The revised bill states that it is the right of the parents to guide their children, but that right will never overrule the human rights of the children themselves. Silja Dögg states that the procedure of circumcision is a violation of human rights law as well as the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. “The matter has nothing do with religion, this is matter of protecting the rights of children”, she stated.
The bill has not been without its detractors as they claim it would stifle their religious freedom. Karim Askari, the director of the foundation of Muslims in Iceland, has stated the law is in stark contrast to the beliefs and practices of Islam. If the practice of circumcision becomes illegal, Muslims will have to seek out practicians that are not official, and the procedure could, therefore, become more dangerous, in terms of health outcomes. Reinhard Marx, the cardinal in München, one of the closest advisors to Pope Frans, chairman of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community, has publicly denounced the bill and claims that is an attack on religious freedom. While Iceland has no official rabbi, leading rabbis in Denmark and Oslo have protested the bill, stating that it is imperative that Jews protest it. They proclaim that the voices of Jews are not heard in Iceland due to the low number of Jews that reside there. “Circumcision is a critical part of Jewish life and no authority in the world can forbid Jews from carrying out this commandment”, they stated. It is estimated that there are currently just over 100 Jewish individuals in Iceland right now, while estimates for the Muslim population range between 1100-1300, which is around 0.3% of the total population. Furthermore, the Bishop of the National Church of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir has expressed opposition to the bill, saying a ban could “criminalize” Judaism and Islam in Iceland and make “individuals who adhere to them be banned here in the country or unwelcome.” She added that such extreme measures should be avoided.
The medical side
The procedure of circumcision is not common in Iceland. Doctors currently only perform the procedure if it is for medicinal purposes, and often have a dissuading talk with parents that wish to circumcise their child. The last procedure that was officially performed in Iceland was in 2006, outside of those performed for medicinal reasons. However, there were 13 surgeries performed by independent specialists between 2010 to 2016, at a tune of just over 2 operations per year. Þráinn Rósmundsson, a children’s surgeon, estimates that around one procedure is performed per year due to medicinal reasons, such as phimosis, the condition where the foreskin is too tight. The Ombudsmen for Children in all of the Nordic countries signed a resolution in 2013 to put an end to the circumcision of children. Danish doctors have previously advised against the circumcision of boys below the age of 18. Furthermore, more than 400 Icelandic doctors have signed a declaration of support for the bill.
A watchful eye
Some have claimed the ban is completely unnecessary as the procedure is uncommon in Iceland. The fewer laws, the better, the thinking goes as circumcision has not been a problem up to this point. On the other hand, many state the matter is simply a case of respecting the human rights of individuals. As of now, it is unclear what the result will be from the Parliamentary discussion. However, it is clear that the debate will be closely followed all around the world.
This In Focus article was published in the latest issue of Iceland Review. Click here to subscribe!
In Focus is a series of articles intended to shed a light on contemporary issues in Iceland, keeping readers informed on subjects and matters present in the national discussion.