Activists Demand Repeal of Regulation on Circumcision

By Yuli Krisna on 11:08 am Apr 20, 2013
Category News
Parents in Bandung try to persuade their 4-year-old daughter to undergo a circumcision. (AFP Photo/Adek Berry)

Parents in Bandung try to persuade their 4-year-old daughter to undergo a circumcision. (AFP Photo/Adek Berry)

Bandung. “Once a baby girl is 40 days old, she can be circumcised. That’s the tradition,” says Lusi, a mother of one.

“My mother says the child must bleed, but the midwife said there’s no bleeding involved because she’s just cleaning it up down there.”

Lusi is one of many mothers in Indonesia who subject their daughters to a procedure involving pricking and piercing the hood of the clitoris with a needle, citing an Islamic belief that it will keep the girl’s libido in check when she grows up.

Although there is no official data to gauge the extent of the practice, women’s and children’s rights activists say it is widespread, particularly in rural areas.

Ellin Rozana, the executive director of the Women’s Institute, an advocacy group, argues that a Health Ministry regulation issued in 2010 that legitimizes the practice must be repealed.

She says the government’s rationale — that the form of female circumcision performed in the country is largely symbolic and not harmful — is irrelevant, and that no form of female circumcision can be justified on religious grounds.

“Admittedly the circumcision practiced in Indonesia isn’t as bad as in some African countries, where they mutilate parts of the girl’s genitals,” she tells the Jakarta Globe.

“Here they call it pricking and cleaning, but there’s no clear reason for why it has to be done. It’s different from male circumcision, which has clear health benefits.”

Ellin says the age-old reason given, that the circumcision prevents a girl from having a high sex drive and thus from becoming sexually promiscuous, highlights the patriarchal and discriminative nature of traditional Islamic Indonesian society toward women.

“There’s this idea that if a girl is circumcised, she will grow up to be a ‘good girl’ with a low sex drive,” she says.

“But this is a question of a woman’s reproductive rights, her right to enjoy sex.”

The government initially banned all forms of female circumcision in 2006. Four years later, however, it made an about-face and issued a regulation giving health workers the discretion to perform circumcisions as they saw fit.

The government argued that the regulation was needed because the all-out ban had led to large numbers of parents getting their daughters circumcised by unqualified shamans and traditional healers, thereby putting their children at high risk of medical complications.

The Health Ministry regulation defines permissible female circumcision as “an incision of the skin covering the front of the clitoris, without cutting the clitoris.”

But a 2003 study by the Population Council found that 22 percent of 1,307 female circumcision cases in the country were excisions, meaning that part of the clitoris or labia was removed. Of the rest, 49 percent involved incisions while only 28 percent were of the “symbolic” prick-and-clean type.

Ellin argues that as minimalist as it seems, the kind of circumcision allowed by the government is still unacceptable under internationally recognized standards on women’s rights.

In December, the United Nations passed a resolution banning female genital mutilation, which extends to the circumcision practiced in Indonesia.

Procedures such as pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, cauterization or burning that are carried out for non-medical purposes are categorized by the World Health Organization as mutilation along with practices that alter or remove any part of the genitals.

Back in Bandung, Lusi has come to realize that she did not need to have her daughter circumcised.

“I found out too late that what I did was a violation of my child’s rights,” she says.

Additional reporting from AFP

  • Muishuis

    While this is an excellent piece overall, the only piece of misinformation is over male circumcision. Although many doctors and researchers have claimed health benefits of male circumcision, they are heavily disputed and discrepancies in the research methodology have been pointed out by peer review and the results even flat-out contradicted by other pieces of research.

    Until indisputable proof of justifiable health benefits vs. the harm of the procedure has been shown, no child should ever have to undergo the horrors of genital cutting, male or female. If they want to have it done based on THEIR beliefs, then let that happen when the child is of age to make all decisions for him/herself.

    • Januar Ciel

      Yes, thank u.

    • MadWorld

      Male circumcision, make the head (penis) clean from smegma, (which can be cancerogenic), but genital circumcision on women are barbaric.

  • Januar Ciel

    This “symbolic” prick-and-clean is still assault, and inflicts psychological trauma as well w negative impressions of sexuality. Also, male genital cutting (circumcision) has NO clear health benefits, and is extremely damaging to body and mind!

  • Keith Rutter

    Children of both sexes need protection from ignorant/moronic parents , and greedy, unethical butchers.

  • anon

    Wtf male circumcision has NO effing health benefits! People are so frwaking backwards.

  • Crystal RoboRaptor Tomaino

    There are no “clear health benefits” to male genital mutilation, unless you also want to argue that there are clear health benefits to removing your hear to avoid ear infections. You can still hear with it, but if you remove it you can at avoid having to clean behind and around it since being Americans and the last modernized country to regularly mutilate baby genitals, we prefer surgery to soap.

  • Hugh Intactive

    The compulsion to cut a child’s genitals is very widespread, and very strange. Once people start doing it, they keep finding new excuses to carry on, one after another as each one is disproved. Once it has become customary, people start to think that custom itself is a good reason for doing it. But except for the very rare cases of real medical need, or an adult giving their own informed consent to have it done to them, it is always a human rights violation, whatever the person’s sex or their parents’ beliefs. A human’s own body should be inviolate – for them alone to decide its fate.

  • Arakiba

    Mutilating children’s genitals is sick. Doesn’t matter which gender it’s done to or what equally sick religion or culture says to do it, it’s still wrong.