August 20, 2014
Half a million boys killed and hospitalised by tribal circumcisionby by Glen Poole
Around half a million boys have been killed and hospitalised by circumcision in South Africa in the past eight years according to local reports, writes Glen Poole.
Research published by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) claims that more than 500,000 boys have ended up in hospital since 2008 after being subjected to traditional circumcision practices.
The South African media has also revealed that circumcision has killed more than 500 boys in the Eastern Cape region of the country in the past eight years, with the toll reaching 528 last month.
Traditional circumcision is seen as a rite of passage into manhood in some tribal communities. Boys face huge social and cultural pressure to take part in these dangerous rituals and males who haven’t been circumcised are not considered to be real men and face being ridiculed and ostracised.
Circumcision schools have become death traps
In the Eastern Cape of South Africa, boys attend initiation schools where they spend several weeks in the mountains during the circumcision season. “The initiation schools are seen by many as death traps for young people,” said the Reverend Dr Wesley Mabuza, Chair of CRL’s Rights Commission. “The South African society is being confronted with issues that force it to re-examine its ways of doing things”.
South Africa isn’t the only country where traditional circumcision practices are increasingly being recognised as a social problem. In Kenya, men from tribes who don’t practice circumcision are chased and rounded up by members of the Bukusu tribe and forcibly circumcised. Elsewhere, in Australia, the safety of ritual circumcision became a topic of public debate when three boys were airlifted to hospital after being injured in an aboriginal initiation ceremony.
Meanwhile the South Africa state is promoting circumcision as a weapon in the fight against HIV/AIDS and has set itself a goal of circumcising 4.3 million men and boys from 2010-2016. Both the ethics and efficacy of using circumcision to try and combat the disease have been heavily criticised but the state seems determined to hit its targets and is exploring the introduction of infant circumcision to help it reach its goals.
African boys killed by circumcision in UK
The social and cultural acceptance of male circumcision as a legitimate practice places boys in African families all over the world at risk. High profile incidents of African boys being subjected to forced circumcision in the UK include Goodluck Caubergs who died aged just 27 days old after being circumcised by a midwife and Angelo Ofori-Mintah who died aged 28 days old after being circumcised by a Rabbi. Last month we also reported the story of a trainee doctor who divorced her African-born husband after he had their son circumcised without her consent or knowledge.
Those campaigning against male circumcision in South Africa, like the group NOCIRC-SA are currently in a minority. Groups like CRL are not opposed to the ritual, but are focussed on reducing the obvious risks.
CRL Chairperson, Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said: “We cannot have mothers lose their boys up there and be told only when the other boys come back. At this rate [the practice] is going to die of natural causes because….people are scared of taking their kids to initiation schools.”