I remember at age 12 being dropped off at my uncle’s place and being told to shout loudly before I went into my favorite cousin’s room. I was confused and didn’t know why I was being subjected to this absurdity. Kwani what was wrong? No one would say. I was told to leave him alone, that he wouldn’t be coming out to play, a grave disappointment. He’s an only child and I didn’t know why I’d come all this way only to keep playing with my boring little sister.
A curious child (and adult), I was too restless to obey the rules. I pretended I was going to the toilet at some point and headed straight into his room. Thank God for him that I don’t really do subtlety, he heard my ruckus 2 seconds before I walked in and dove for a leso (wrapper). Not fast enough, I managed a traumatizing glimpse of his bandaged crotch that’s never fully left my damaged psyche.
Since then, I’ve been told gory stories of traditional circumcisions by grown pals, that, instead of instilling in me the sense of these men as heroes, left me cold and clutching at my womb. My cousin went through what’s become the standard medical procedure that involves local anesthesia, antibiotics and humane care. For a long time, I was grateful things had changed and my future sons wouldn’t have to go through the traditional blood shedding. I was ok with taking them to a hospital and getting a doctor to cut the offending piece of skin off instead of some miti shamba guy (traditional doctor) from shagz (the rurals).
That is, until I actually carried a human male in my womb and went through 9 hellish hours of induced labour, only to push out the most perfect little thing ever created. I would look at him in wonder for hours on end wondering how on earth I’d managed to build such a beautiful and complete creature. I promised to save him from any harm, any pain and to give him a life of only joy (or at least try my best to)
As a single mother, his circumcision was the last thing on my mind. Diapers, diapers, diapers, sleep…that’s all I thought about for months; until a guy who was hitting on me at the time, auditioning for the post of daddy, asked when I was planning on getting baby boy cut. I gave the cursory answer, “In my culture we wait until 14.” He went on to say how painful that would be and it’d be less cruel to get it done when he was still a baby, ati he’d heal faster.
There was no way I was subjecting my darling firstborn to such pain. I was going to wait till 14 because he’d be older then, more resilient. But here was this man saying how crazy the experience is even when you’re considered ‘a man’. So, my question was, if it was too painful at 14, when it’s meant to be a rite of passage into manhood, why on earth should I get it done when he was only months old? Would subjecting my child to such pain be worth it, like the horrible immunizations we had to go through every few weeks, or teething? Google came to my rescue and this is what I learned:
source: INTACT AMERICA
Reasons NOT to Circumcise Your Baby Boy
- Because there is no medical reason for “routine” circumcision of baby boys. No professional medical association in the United States or the rest of the world recommends routine neonatal circumcision. The American Medical Association calls it “non-therapeutic.” At no time in its 75 years has the American Academy of Pediatrics ever recommended infant circumcision.
- Because the foreskin is not a birth defect. The foreskin is a normal, sensitive, functional part of the body. In infant boys, the foreskin is attached to the head of the penis (glans), protects it from urine, feces, and irritation, and keeps contaminants from entering the urinary tract. The foreskin also has an important role in sexual pleasure, due to its specialized, erogenous nerve endings and its natural gliding and lubricating functions.
- Because you wouldn’t circumcise your baby girl. All over the world, girls of all ages are protected by federal and state laws from forced genital surgery, whether practiced in medical or non-medical settings, and regardless of the religious or cultural preferences of their parents. There is no ethical rationale for distinguishing between female and male genital alteration. If it is wrong to remove part of a baby girl’s healthy genitals, then it is wrong to do the same to those of a baby boy.
- Because your baby does not want to be circumcised. Circumcision painfully and permanently alters a baby boy’s genitals, removing healthy, protective, functional tissue from the penis and exposing the child to unnecessary pain and medical risks –for no medical benefit. What do you think your baby boy would say if he could tell you?
- Because removing part of a baby’s penis is painful, risky, and harmful. We know babies are sensitive to pain. Many circumcisions are performed with no analgesic, but even when pain control is employed, the pain is not eliminated. As with any surgery, complications can and do occur with circumcision. These include infection, abnormal bleeding, removal of too much skin, loss of all or part of the glans, urinary problems, and even death. All circumcisions result in the loss of the foreskin and its functions, and leave a penile scar.
- Because most medically advanced nations do not circumcise baby boys. People in Europe, Asia and Latin America are often appalled to hear that American doctors and hospitals remove part of a boy’s penis shortly after birth. Approximately 75% of the men in the world are not circumcised and remain intact throughout their lives.
- Because caring for and cleaning the foreskin is easy. A natural, intact penis requires no special care, beyond gentle washing while bathing. Later, when the foreskin can be retracted (something that often does not occur until adolescence), a boy can be taught to pull back his foreskin to wash his penis. Forcible retraction of the foreskin results in pain and injury, and should not be done.
- Because circumcision does not prevent HIV or other diseases. Over the years, the claims that circumcision prevents various diseases have repeatedly been proven to be exaggerated or outright fabrications. Most men in the United States are circumcised, but our STD rates are as high as or higher than those in countries where circumcision is rare.
- Because children should be protected from permanent bodily alteration inflicted on them without their consent in the name of culture, religion, profit, or parental preference. Under accepted bioethical principles, parents can consent to surgery on behalf of a child only if it is necessary to protect the child’s life or health. “Routine” circumcision fails this test because it painfully and permanently removes a normal and healthy part of a boy’s penis, does not protect the child’s life or health, and in fact creates new risks. Removing the foreskin is no more justified than removing a finger or any other healthy body part.
None of my sons will be going through this rite of passage. I recognize that it is a tradition that has been part of mine and other African communities and has been important in maintaining a semblance of our culture especially in post colonial times. However, it is possible to keep in spirit with the culture to teach our boys responsibility without necessarily having to subject them to mutilation, or shame for bearing a piece of skin that they were born with and is useful, past high school age.
I have at least 12 years to spark honest debate about the harmful traditional practices we subject the boychild to and change people’s minds in Africa so that my kids won’t be persecuted for this decision. But just in case, with science on my side I’m going to do my best to impart in my sons the strength to stand for their belief in the perfection of their bodies even in the heat of the inevitable opposition coming our way.