Public lecture: Is circumcision a crime?

Anne Hewitt and Cornelia Koch

Anne Hewitt and Cornelia Koch
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Monday, 10 September 2012

A public lecture at the University of Adelaide will discuss the legal issues surrounding circumcision and question whether it is time for Australians to rethink current attitudes to the practice.

The lecture will consider the recent high-profile case in Germany where a Court decided that the circumcision of a four-year-old boy constituted a criminal offence. This case sparked worldwide media headlines and international debate on the regulation of circumcision.

'Is Circumcision a Crime?' is being presented by the University's Research Unit for the Study of Society, Law and Religion (RUSSLR) and the South Australian Chapter of the Australian Association of Constitutional Law.

The speakers, Anne Hewitt and Cornelia Koch, are both Senior Lecturers at the University of Adelaide's Law School and members of RUSSLR. They have an ongoing research collaboration on restrictions of religious and cultural freedoms including previously published work on wearing of the Islamic burqa in public.

At the lecture, the speakers will explain the German court decision and implications in a country where male circumcision historically has occurred for largely religious reasons or pressing medical grounds. This will be compared to Australia where the practice is more widespread and often for cultural, rather than religious, reasons.

Research in Australia suggests that even though circumcision rates have dropped significantly since the 1960s - when up to 90% of baby boys were circumcised - the practice is still prevalent but unregulated.

The German Court case weighed up the rights of a young child to "bodily integrity" against the parent's right to freedom of religion and to educate their child, including in religious matters.

The speakers will also compare the practice of male circumcision with the prohibition of female circumcision.

"In Australia, female circumcision is totally prohibited whether there is consent or not whereas in males, circumcision is widely practised on infant males without their consent and no regulation of it whatsoever," says Ms Hewitt. "Is it time for Australians to rethink current attitudes?"

The speakers will discuss a range of ways in which circumcision could be regulated from education campaigns, an obligation of informed consent, through to counselling requirements or making the practice illegal.

WHAT: Is Circumcision a Crime? A critique of the legal regulation of genital cutting in Germany and Australia
WHERE: Moot Court Room, Adelaide Law School, Ligertwood Building, University of Adelaide
WHEN: 1-2pm, Thursday 13 September
COST: Free - all welcome


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