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Circumcision bill clears cabinet

October 10, 2012

Religious circumcision has taken another step back towards legality in Germany, months after a Cologne court ruled that it caused grievous, irreparable bodily harm and should only be conducted on older children.

Circumcision tools +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The German government approved a new bill on Wednesday that would make the religious circumcision of young boys legal, after a May court ruling in Cologne threw the practice's legality into question.

Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said the proposed law was "an important signal to dispose of the uncertainty that has arisen."

The new law would make the practice legal on religious grounds, but only under certain conditions. Either a qualified doctor or religious figures without medical training but "specially trained for the task" would have to carry out the operation, and only with parental consent. The draft still has to clear parliament and ultimately be signed into law by President Joachim Gauck.

Jewish and Muslim groups, united in opposition of the Cologne ruling, welcomed the bill. The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, called it "very successful and desired," saying the government had acted quickly and sensibly.

"In this case our politicians have earned a lot of praise and respect," Graumann said, promising to work on a special form of accreditation for Jewish circumcision practitioners without doctor's qualifications. "We must think about how we can set up such a certification."

Muslim groups in Germany including Milli Görüs also welcomed the decision on Wednesday, while the chairman of the Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek called the bill "exceedingly astute, balanced and fair."

'Thrown back decades'

Circumcision was deemed illegal by a regional court in Cologne in May after a four-year-old boy was submitted to hospital with heavy bleeding after undergoing the procedure. The operation had taken place at his parents' behest, but his injuries prompted a state investigation that led to the lawsuit. The court ruled that circumcision constituted irreparable bodily harm and argued that children should be allowed to decide for themselves when they were old enough, rather than being circumcised as infants.

The children's charity Deutsche Kinderhilfe was among the staunchest critics of the decision, calling it a "quick-fire" political solution that favored parents at the expense of their children's rights.

"While a smack is forbidden, now an irreversible procedure with the risk of considerable side-effects and pain should be allowed for almost any reason - such a decree in German law would enduringly weaken children's rights," the chairman of the charity, Georg Ehrmann, said in a press release, saying the move sent Germany back decades in terms of protecting the young.

The Old Testament Book of Genesis instructs believers to circumcise their young, a tradition that has overwhelmingly endured in Judaism and Islam - though millions of other children undergo the procedure, often for perceived health benefits.

The cabinet bill followed a direct request from parliament, meaning that the law is likely to meet with overriding approval from lawmakers, despite a handful of critical voices among the ruling and opposition parties.

msh/rc (AFP, dpa, epd, KNA)