German court rules circumcision is 'bodily harm'

Scalpel Male circumcision is part of both Jewish and Muslim religious rituals

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A court in Germany has ruled that circumcising young boys for religious reasons amounts to bodily harm.

In a decision that has caused outrage among Jewish and Muslim groups, the court said that a child's right to physical integrity trumps religious and parental rights.

The case involved a doctor who carried out a circumcision on a four year-old that led to medical complications.

Thousands of Muslim and Jewish boys are circumcised in Germany every year.

Although male circumcision - unlike female circumcision - is not illegal in Germany, the court's judgement said the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents".

Circumcision, it decided, contravenes "interests of the child to decide later in life on his religious beliefs".

'Protect religious freedom'

The doctor involved in the case was acquitted and the ruling is not binding, but correspondents say it sets a precedent that would be taken into account by other German courts.

The president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, called it "an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the right of religious communities to self-determination".

He urged the country's parliament to clarify the legal situation "to protect religious freedom against attacks".

Male circumcision is part of the ancient religious rituals of both the Jewish and Muslim faiths, as well as the traditions of some tribal groups.

In some countries, such as the United States, it is also not uncommon for parents to request that young boys are circumcised for health reasons.

The BBC's Stephen Evans in Germany says it is unclear what the next legal step will be, but this issue is a moral and political minefield.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Every parent who brings up a child educates and moulds them in a way they believe is best, and makes irreversible decisions on their behalf in the process. This is just one more of those, the only reason I can see for the virulent opposition expressed on this forum for a practise which has proven scientific health benefits, is to use it as fuel for their pre-existing prejudice against religion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    In today's European multicultural societies we really are going to have to be a little more tolerant of the different customs, practices and of the various ethnic and religious groups. To decribe them as 'obsolete ancient rituals' is to use language deliberately chosen to provoke antagonism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    A ruling of this kind is long overdue. Were it not for the religious backdrop then male genital mutilation would be widely regarded as an appalling act of permanent bodily harm against a defenceless baby and the perpetrators would be serving time for it. Ancient traditions, whatever their cultural origins, which involve permanent physical harm towards children have no place in the 21st century.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    The issue is a minefield, indeed, but I commend the German court for taking a principled stand. Very tiny babies are unnecessarily traumatised when all that is needed in the 21st c is gentle, educated care for their body. Older boys also need to be allowed to grow up to make their own informed decision. There is insufficient medical oversight of these obsolete ancient religious rituals. Think!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Circumcision of baby boys is a violation of their body, and a significant number of circumcised men wish they hadn't been. There is absolutely no reason why males, if they want to be circumcised, cannot choose as they enter manhood, as is oft the tradition for Jews and Muslims anyway. Circumcision at birth has nothing to do with freedom of religion of the person in question. I laud this decision.


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