Fathers’ v Mothers’ v Childrens’ Rights

stop male circumcision ukWhose rights should take precedence in law—mum’s rights, dad’s rights or the child’s rights?

The UK Court of Appeal had to consider this question recently when a Malaysian mother sought refuge in the UK in an attempt to prevent her husband—who had converted to Islam—from having their son circumcised.

Protecting boys from medically unnecessary circumcision and improving fathers’ rights to be involved in their children’s live are two areas of concern for many people who come along to the National Conference for Men and Boys.

To buy your tickets for this year’s event click here to book online now.

The case that the Court of Appeal heard involved a Malaysian mother who was brought up as a Sikh but converted to Roman Catholicism as an adult. In December 2006 she married a Malaysia man of Nigerian origin who was also Roman Catholic. Their son was baptized and brought up Roman Catholic but nt 2010 dad became interested in Islam and expressed his intention to convert.

The mother sought asylum in the UK on several grounds including the fact that she didn’t want her son to be brought up Muslim and circumcised for religious and cultural reasons. The mother’s legal representative submitted that the English courts would be unlikely to bow to the father’s wishes in that respect unless the mother also consented. She submitted that in those circumstances it would not be in the child’s best interests to return him to Malaysia where his father’s wishes would prevail over those of his mother.

According to Lord Justice Moore-Bick who oversaw the case:

“Male circumcision is a widespread religious and cultural practice which has ancient origins. It is usually, though not invariably, carried out at a very young age when the child is unable to understand what is involved or to express any view about it. Although invasive in nature and not commanding universal approval, it is regarded as an acceptable practice among communities of all kinds, provided it is carried out under appropriate conditions. These may include appropriate medical attention and the loving support of parents and close family members.”

Bizarrely, Moore-Bick, also said that male circumcision: “cannot be compared to other cultural or religious practices, such as female genital mutilation, which involve a far more serious violation of the physical integrity of the body and an expression of subservience.”

In truth the female circumcision performed on around 90% of girls in Malaysian is generally less invasive that the male circumcision that the boys are subjected to, as this article by a Muslim Malay woman on female genital cutting explains.

The fact is that male circumcision is different and sometimes worse than female circumcision and is a painful procedure often performed on boys without anaesthetic which can cause damage, disease and in extreme circumstances, death.

Despite this fact, it is perfectly legal for anyone to cut off a boy’s foreskin in the UK. but illegal to perform any kind of genital ritual on girls—including the Malaysian style practices that are generally less invasive than male circumcision. It is also illegal to take a girl based in Britain abroad for such a procedure.

In the case of this 7 year-old Malaysian boy, the UK Court of Appeal ruled that “he would be conforming to the broad expectations of the culture and society in which he would grew up”.

The court decided that it was in the boys’ best interest to be brought up by both parents which could only happen in Malaysian where the fathers’ (and the country’s) religion would take precedent over the mothers’.

So in this case the UK court ruled that the boys’ best interest was best served by putting the fathers’ right to choose his child’s religion and have his son’s foreskin cut off ahead of the mothers’ right to make the same choices and the boys’ right to choose for himself what happens to his penis when he becomes an adult.

It’s a ruling that is likely to anger intactavists (ie people campaigning to end unnecessary male circumcision) and fathers’ rights campaigners alike.

The reason this ruling may anger UK fathers’ rights campaigners is because they will struggle to understand why the court gave precedence to the rights of a Malaysian father in the name of the child’s best interest, when they will  point to cases where family courts fail to support children being brought up by both parents and give precedence to the wishes of the mother.

Both intactavists and fathers’ rights campaigners are welcome to attend the Third National Conference for Men and Boys in September.

To buy your tickets for this year’s event click here to book online now.

To find out more about unnecessary male circumcision in the UK see our post help change the way we think about male circumcision.

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