This is the predictable near-end-result of embracing the irrational.
Rwanda has launched a campaign to encourage all men to be circumcised, to reduce the risk of catching HIV/Aids.
Digging a little deeper, according to Innocent Nyaruhirira, secretary of state for Aids prevention, the truth:
“We will start this campaign with the new born and young men in universities, the army and police.”
Circumcision as an HIV prevention strategy is absurd when condoms and safe-sex are still necessary, but one target group is not like the others. Forcing circumcision on a child is a bizarre definition of encourage.
I will not pretend to be shocked. Even when leaving aside the glaring ethical violation of cutting the healthy genitals of a child, scarce medical resources will be used to circumcise those who will not be sexually active for a dozen or more years. Brilliant strategy.
But consider a few statistics. In 2000, 11% of Rwandan adults were HIV-positive. Over a period of years, traditional approaches to HIV prevention were implemented. In 2007, 3% of Rwandan adults were HIV-positive. Other than the obviously unfortunate reality that many HIV-positive adults have died in that period, the non-circumcision approach works. Why must those who will grow up to be responsible be judged irresponsible before they’ve had a chance to prove themselves? Why must they pay the price for a flaw they may not possess?
Coerced “protection” is morally inferior to the consequences of individual action, whatever the actual consequence.
2 thoughts on “Panicking exposes an ethical flaw.”
So, what do we do about it? How do we convince the masses that (both male and female) circumcision is wrong? How do we prevent children from mutilation?
Short answer? Honesty.
There’s too much hyperbole involved, particularly on the pro-circumcision side, although it exists among anti-circumcision advocates. When press releases come out, reporters need to ask questions. What is the context of the news? Who is really affected? What is the difference between adult and infant circumcision? What is the difference between voluntary circumcision for an adult and forced circumcision for a child?
None of this happens. Instead, it’s an acceptance and repeated regurgitation of the same incomplete set of facts. Every article in the last two years that’s dealt with circumcision, regardless of the details, mentions the potential reduction in risk of transmitting HIV. That’s a post-action justification. It’s wrapped up in society’s denial that it could’ve permitted anything unethical or immoral.
With Africa, we need to start by asking what’s causing the HIV epidemic. Unfortunately, that gets into cultural norms and behavior, which too many people don’t want to address for fear of racism. But it’s not racist to state facts, that many African cultures don’t value safe sex. (It is racist to think that we need to cut instead of educate because they can’t learn, a supposition buried in many calls for mass circumcision.) Multiple partners are considered acceptable. Condoms are ignored. This is all behavior that will not be improved long-term by circumcision. So, honesty in accepting that there are reasons the HIV rate is so high, and it has nothing to do with foreskins, but how people behave.
Honesty in America in understanding that our HIV problem is different than the problem in Africa. We’re dealing primarily with male-to-male transmission, which circumcision does nothing to prevent. And honesty to understand that the other benefits, when looked at in context, are insufficient. Also, honesty in understanding that gender equality means equality, not a switch from women get inferior protection to women get superior protection.
Honesty among politicians to understand that individuals undergo circumcision, not a gender or a group of people. Our government is founded on rights. The use of unnecessary force is a violation. Honesty would require legislation exactly the same for protecting boys as we have to protect girls.
We need honesty in understanding what is done to individuals, whether male or female. Specifically for females, not all genital cutting is the most severe or imposed to prevent enjoyment of sex. It is not specifically a problem of patriarchy. It is a devaluation of the individual in favor of the group.
That said, honesty is a mindset, which amounts to nothing by itself. With female genital cutting, there is some validity to the argument that permitting symbolic cuts (a drop of blood) are an unfortunate compromise that violate the girl’s rights but prevents the more severe cutting she’d receive otherwise. This would coincide with education on the equality of women in cultures that do not accept it.
We must also stop propping up corrupt governments. Economic development has a way of encouraging people to make better choices in their lives. If a person thinks life will be worth living, he is more likely to protect himself. It’s the adage of teach a man to fish instead of giving him a fish. Self-sufficiency. Instead, we heap aid that gets squandering on political elites and favored parties. (Like the U.S. but in hyper-drive.)
The money now being wasted on circumcision, particularly on children, needs to be spent on education. It works. Teach people how to protect themselves. Teach them that just because a partner looks clean, he or she could still be infected. Make condoms available.
Critique, clarify, or add anything you think might help.
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