Come back when you conform (and prevent HIV).

Yesterday, I found this frustrating article from an e-mail list I’m on. It’s in French, which I don’t speak, so I relied on a rough translation from the e-mail list member who sent it. Danielle verified that the translation I received is accurate as a literal translation. Any errors are as I received them, but I accept responsibility for any inaccuracies.

A Kenyan secondary school dismissed 20 pupils because they were not circumcised, fearing that they should be the object of mockery or violence on behalf of comrades, in this country where certain communities estimate that keeping ones foreskin is not hygienic, one learned Sunday from official sources.

The persons in charge for the secondary school for boys of Kiriani (Eastern Province) addressed to the parents of the 20 pupils a letter announcing their exclusion to them and asking them to proceed to the circumcision of their children so that they can take again the way of the school.

“This to inform you that your son may not present himself at school under the condition where he happens to be. You succeeded in registering your son in our school without informing us that he was different from the others, i.e. non-circumcised. You are requested to do the necessary within two weeks and to present yourself at school with your son as soon as he recovers” (after the operation), can be read in the letter of which AFP obtained a copy.

The circumcision is not compulsory to register in a school, but the headmaster of the college of Kiriani, F. NR. Githinji, explained that the pupils had been dismissed to prevent them from being the object of harassing on behalf of older pupils.

That kind of conformity, even if it’s more extreme than would occur here, is no different than the basic mentality in the United States among parents who circumcise to avoid any locker room embarrassment. It’s easier to teach children to conform through forced bodily modification than to disregard the opinion of another, future teenager. In any other context, we would see this for the fallacious joke it is. But we accept incorrect ideas about the male foreskin without question because we refuse to reject old ideas.

Here’s an idea: if the intact boys will be in a situation where their intactness will be apparent and subject them to harassment, the school has an obligation to protect those boys. It can’t shirk this obligation by sending them home for unnecessary genital cutting.

The related English-language version, courtesy of the BBC, is much shorter, without some of the critical details. That could be an editorial decision to present “just the facts,” but I don’t think so. One daft deft addition to the original article shows that there’s a bias. I’m not sure it’s designed to be “balanced” or to not present this school’s decision as the obscenity it is, but it exists.

Circumcision is not obligatory for admission to secondary school, but a study released in December said it reduced the risk of contracting HIV/Aids.

That’s not related to this story in any way. The BBC’s editors decided that this nonsensical mantra should be repeated. This is how irrelevant scientific ideas get pushed. The logic against circumcision as an HIV preventive and any cost-benefit analysis based in reality is simply inconvenient and not appropriate for the article (or any BBC coverage, for that matter). The BBC skewed the story in its attempt to provide a justification for the school’s irrational action instead of presenting the facts. Now people will read this story without thinking and agree that, yeah, the school’s action is a bit extreme, but it’s okay. They boys will be protected from HIV, in addition to the ridicule they’ll allegedly now avoid.

This is bullshit. The BBC should be ashamed.

Update: A Kenyan newspaper published an editorial against the principal’s decision. Kenya’s education minister George Saitoti said that the principal will face disciplinary action.

¹ Not incorrect, just irrelevant. It’s relevant to adult males, if they choose it for themselves. Until baby boys start having unprotected sex with HIV-positive women, or circumcision reduces HIV transmission through blood transfusions and intravenous drug use, circumcision is not indicated for the limited future possibility of a disease with a specific, identifiable sexual behavior.

3 thoughts on “Come back when you conform (and prevent HIV).”

  1. Have you ever sent an email to any of these online news websites (like the BBC) objecting to their pro-circumcision slant, and if so, what kind of response did you get?

  2. No, I haven’t. From the reports I’ve heard from other activists, it does little. Sometimes letters get published, but usually not. The media seems uninterested in truth. They present either the accepted view that circumcision is normal, or they present an “unbiased” view.
    I have been thinking about it, though. Rather than just sending letters, I’m leaning more to Op/Ed page-type essays. Something that offers a little more than just a reaction.

  3. “Sometimes letters get published, but usually not.”
    It doesn’t matter whether they publish your letter or not. What matters is whether they respond positively or not.
    If I sent an email to the BBC’s editor objecting to the HIV/AIDS reference in that story and I received a reply from him apologizing for it and promising an end to such irrelevant digressions, I’d consider that a victory even if my message was never published.

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