In an op-ed for the Guardian, Manchester-based journalist Ally Fogg writes about the annual circumcision festival that is taking place this week in Mutoto, Uganda. Festivals such as these happen throughout the continent, and in Uganda’s case, is supported and endorsed by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. But to Fogg, these initiation ceremonies are akin to female genital mutilation (FGM) due to the hundreds of thousands of young men who end up with infections, deformities, and/or suffer the horror of penile amputations.
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The human devastation left in the wake of these traditions is horrifying. A recent report by
South Africa’s Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities calculated that in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo provinces alone at least 419 boys have died since 2008, and more than 456,000 initiates have been hospitalised with complications.
Deaths commonly occur through dehydration, blood loss, shock-induced heart failure or septicaemia. And there are estimated to be two total penile amputations for every death. Countless numbers of participants are left with permanent scarring or deformity. Urologists describe seeing patients whose penises have become so infected and gangrenous they literally drop off.
The majority of these ceremonies are said to be voluntary, but the cultural pressure to take part in the ceremonies is said to be more than intense. In countries, such as Uganda and Kenya, many young boys are said to be forcibly circumcised in the streets if they are caught trying to evade the custom, with Fog adding:
Males from participating tribes are told that if they do not volunteer they will be captured and circumcised by force. One MP said the chilling words: ‘If you know any Mugisu who is dodging the circumcision, show him to us and you will get sh500,000 [£115] as a reward.’
This comes just two weeks after a mob in neighbouring Kenya reportedly abducted at least 12 men from different tribes and forcibly circumcised them in the street. Dozens more were said to be camping outside the police station for protection. No one has been yet arrested for the assaults.
For Fogg, the silence around circumcision must be broken in order to give the many who are harmed a voice. One example he offers was the tragic predicament of one youth who reportedly ended up having to have his penis removed. When the young man tried to speak up about it, he was beaten in the streets:
One young South African who spoke out after his penis was amputated following a botched circumcision was severely beaten as punishment for shaming the ceremony. When women elders condemn what is happening to their sons, they are vilified by tribal leaders.
Fogg also says that the arguments for continuing circumcision — because it supposedly prevents AIDS or is a respected cultural tradition — aren’t enough to justify the practice:
Leaving aside the ongoing epidemiological debate about the effectiveness of the strategy, it is self-evident that non-clinical circumcision can be actively harmful, leaving bleeding wounds or incomplete removal of the foreskin which can increase risks.
Given the numbers of young men who are negatively — and sometimes permanently — effected by this, do you think it is time for the circumcision of boys to be stopped. Furthermore, do you see circumcision as akin to FGM with girls?
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