Court rules circumcision of four-year-old boy illegal
Legal status of nonmedical procedure remains murky
Finland’s first court ruling on male child circumcision was handed down by a Finnish court on Friday. A Muslim mother faced charges of assault in Tampere District Court for having her four-year-old son circumcised.
The incident was reported to the police by the boy’s father, who had not been consulted.
The court found that the mother’s action was illegal. However, it did not assign any punishment. The mother defended her action by saying that she thought that circumcisions performed by doctors were legal in Finland.
The case will now go to the Court of Appeals.
The mother said that the procedure is part of the family’s religion and cultural heritage. The court found that interferoing with personal inviolability could be allowed only in cases specifically permitted by law.
"There is a perception in Finland that only girls’ circumcisions are banned by law. There is no specific legislation about them; both types are illegal under the same criminal law. After all, in both procedures, part of healthy genitalia is removed without medical foundation, or competent consent", says local prosecutor Jouko Nurminen.
Nurminen says that the "misconception" may have arisen in connection with the drafting of the new constitution, at which time only the circumcision of girls was part of the debate.
In its decision, the court notes that not even a long religious tradition justifies protecting the bodily inviolability of boys to a lesser degree than that of girls.
A working group of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health proposed a few years ago that circumcisions performed under medical supervision in hospitals should be allowed.
The working group wanted to avoid complications from operations performed at home, and to reduce the suffering of the child.
Legislation is somewhat vague on the matter, and practice varies in Finland. For instance, a report drafted by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in 2004 notes that male circumcision is permitted in all countries.
"There is no legislation on male circumcision, but there is also no prohibition. The operations have been performed on the basis of common law", says Riitta-Maija Jouttimäki, a lawyer for the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Danger of botched home circumcisions a problem for low-income Muslim families (24.8.2001)
Botched circumcisions send four boys to hospital in Kuopio (21.8.2001)
Health care personnel to be given guidelines on female circumcision (14.9.2004)
Prosecutor General defers move on Kuopio botched circumcision case (9.4.2003)
Some hospitals sharply oppose religiously mandated circumcisions (25.3.2003)
Finnish hospitals urged to perform circumcisions (24.3.2003)