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    Circumcision & child rights – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. In Germany and some other places there have been moves to ban circumcision as an infringement of the rights of a child.* What is your view?

    A. There was a World Summit for Children at the United Nations, New York, in September, 1990. The Declaration that emerged from the Summit is full of beautiful rhetoric about the need to promote the survival, protection and development of children. It quite rightly emphasised that children should not be caught up in the dangers that surround every one of us in the modern world.

    But how are we to protect our children, and indeed who are the “we” (governments? the media? the courts? the education system? parents?).

    Presumably all children face the same dangers, and every country should adopt the same policies, but this wasn’t fully spelt out. Nor was there room for parents to claim that they acted in a certain way out of principle or conscience.

    We are not certain whether the Summit disapproved of parents denying their children blood transfusions because of their religious beliefs. We are also not certain of its views about circumcision.

    It may be that in today’s international configuration, no international body would risk banning circumcision because of the offence it would cause to Islam. Regardless of politics, however, to whom would parents who support circumcision state their view that this is a matter of conscience? To whom would they argue that circumcision in fact has medical benefits?

    Who has the right to determine whether circumcision infringes a child’s “rights” – and what rights does a child have, and what if a child is unaware that it has rights?

    If parents decide that giving a baby a heart operation, though it is intrusive surgery, does not infringe the child’s “rights”, why should they not equally be entitled to decide on circumcision, which is not nearly so invasive?

    There is a time for common sense, and the opponents of circumcision in certain parts of Germany have an uncommon lack of it.

    * This article first appeared in 2012.

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