In a case which has garnered some attention over the last few days, President of the Family Division James Munby clarifies the position on Female Genital Mutilation in Re B and G [2014], but fails entirely to address an equally pressing form of abuse -MGM.

MGM is a procedure which involves partial removal of the external male genitalia, or other injury to the male genital organs for non-medical reasons, and is practiced as a form of religious ritual mainly within Jewish and Muslim communities. The practice has spread across the globe, largely through misinformation and myth, so much so that MGM is now carried out world-wide as a defence against life-threatening disease, though no medical evidence exists to back up the claim that it saves lives.

We are of course, talking about male circumcision, but doesn’t it sound vile when a different label is slapped on it? And that’s the problem with labels. In calling Male Genital Mutilation, because that’s what it is, male circumcision, we circumvent the reality of this practice entirely.

That though, was not something the President of the Family Division was prepared to do in handing down his judgment last week, whilst comparing MGM to FGM in the later stages of his reasoning. To make matters worse, he took it upon himself to misquote medical data on MGM and even suggest that MGM was acceptable because it was based in religious practice, reasoning we find absurd and unacceptable in a figure-head charged with overseeing the nation’s family matters. This is what Munby says:

“There are…. at least two important distinctions between the two [FGM and MGM]. FGM has no basis in any religion; male circumcision is often performed for religious reasons. FGM has no medical justification and confers no health benefits; male circumcision is seen by some (although opinions are divided) as providing hygienic or prophylactic benefits. Be that as it may, “reasonable” parenting is treated as permitting male circumcision.”

Munby also backs up his stance on MGM by hiding behind precedent – he tells us that there’s nothing in the current case law to suggest that male circumcision justifies care proceedings. This makes for an awkward knot to untangle as it confuses two principles: the ethical practice of MGM and the consequences of that practice. Setting aside the consequences for a moment, we can look more closely at the President’s reasoning for avoiding the discussion around MGM which he does by being very careful with his wording. He chooses, consciously, to avoid committing to one theory or doctrine about the benefits of MGM and at the same time he highlights the dangerous dilemma he faces in criticising the practice by saying of the debate on MGM, “These are deep waters which I hesitate to enter.”

Of course he does. For to enter those waters would be to incite anger amongst communities and the general public at large who have been conditioned to view MGM as natural and even necessary for various reasons. It would also highlight the legal chasm between the two abuses – FGM is currently illegal, whilst MGM is not. Munby is conveniently able to side step this minefield, because the case itself does not focus upon MGM, but FGM. And Munby uses his restricted remit as judicial arbiter of the facts before him to do this.

But not before leaving a string of glaring contradictions trailing behind him in his judgment. Munby openly acknowledges that some types of FGM, which are illegal here in the UK share the same criteria as MGM:

“Given the comparison between what is involved in male circumcision and FGM WHO Type IV, to dispute that the more invasive procedure involves the significant harm involved in the less invasive procedure would seem almost irrational. In my judgment, if FGM Type IV amounts to significant harm, as in my judgment it does, then the same must be so of male circumcision.”

And he also says:

“In NS v MI [2006] EWHC 1646 (Fam), [2007] 1 FLR 444. a forced marriage case, I said this…
“Forced marriages … are utterly unacceptable…..
‘Forced marriage is a gross abuse of human rights. It is a form of domestic violence that dehumanises people by denying them their right to choose how to live their lives. It is an appalling practice. …No social or cultural imperative can extenuate and no pretended recourse to religious belief
can possibly justify forced marriage.’

…Forced marriage is intolerable. It is an abomination. … the court must bend all its powers to preventing it happening. The court must not hesitate to use every weapon in its protective arsenal if faced with what is, or appears to be, a case of forced marriage.” 

In my judgment, every word that I there used in relation to forced marriage applies with equal force to FGM.”

So why shouldn’t it apply to MGM too? Given all that we know about MGM, its similarities to FGM, the lack of consent involved, the evident non-existent health benefits, surely it also falls under Munby’s purview as a ““barbarous” practice which is “beyond the pale.””? We know now too that MGM causes emotional trauma in babies, and that it reduces sexual pleasure in adult males, all without offering any up side to the individual, so why do we insist on viewing Female Genital Mutilation as a crime, and Male Genital Mutilation as a health benefit?

One other thought did occur to us as we read this judgment. Could Munby be trying, indirectly, to incite a debate on MGM away from the judicial bench, away from the courts, and into the political sphere? If that was his intention, we’re not sure he succeeded. No one is talking about MGM this week. No one but us. But we hope that will change.

Labels have a nasty habit of tacitly condoning abuse and ensuring it looks acceptable from the outside. MGM is not acceptable, and using religion as an excuse to look away, is inexcusable.

You can access an article we wrote on MGM, its health benefits and why it’s time to stamp it out, by clicking here.