Circumcision is the removal of the flap of skin, which naturally covers the tip of the penis. Many people, including some doctors, have very strong feelings about circumcision. There are conflicting points of view about the risks and possible benefits of circumcision. Legal and ethical issues about circumcision are also being widely discussed. Medical specialists in Australia have concluded that there is no medical reason for routine circumcisions of newborn male infants.
Why has circumcision been done?
- Circumcision has been done for several thousand years. It may have started as a hygiene measure in communities living in hot, dry, dusty climates, and then became a cultural and religious ritual.
- Now most circumcisions are done for family, cultural or religious reasons.
- Sometimes circumcision needs to be done for medical reasons, such as when the foreskin is too tight.
Why parents choose not to have their baby circumcised?
- They are aware that it is natural to have a foreskin, and it plays an important role in protecting the delicate end of the penis, especially while nappies are being worn.
- They want to avoid an operation, because any operation has some risks. Complications are rare, but there can be bleeding, infection and damage to the tip of the penis.
- Circumcision of can be painful for the child, both at the time of the operation and for some days after.
Why parents choose to have their baby circumcised?
- Many parents who choose circumcision want it for cultural reasons, or so that their son will look like his
father or other family members (perhaps older brothers).
- Circumcision prevents some infections under the foreskin which may happen in infancy and later childhood. However if they occur, they can be treated without the need for a circumcision. Boys who have been circumcised can also get infections of the tip of the penis (also uncommon).
Think about it….would you pullout your child’s teeth if it decreases the risk of dental caries?…or if he forgot to brush his teeth?
Having circumcision done safely
Some parents will decide to have their child circumcised.
- They need to be sure that their doctor refers them to a surgeon (who will do the operation) who is skilful and who has had a lot of experience in doing circumcisions, and an appropriate anesthetic should be used so that the boy does not have a lot of pain.
- The place where the operation is done needs to be able to provide good care for the child (usually in a hospital).
- In most hospitals overseas a small piece of equipment called a “plastibell” is used to give an even and safe roll- back and removal of the foreskin. This equipment is not available in indonesia. For this reason I strongly recommend that you do not have your baby boys (infants) circumsised in this country. It is true, most men are circumcised in this country in accordance with Islamic tradition, however this is performed on prepubescent boys and not on infants. The procedure on babies and grown boys is very different.
- To reduce the risks and discomfort for the child, the operation is best done under a general anesthetic after the age of six months.
Looking after the penis and foreskin in infants
In male babies and young boys, the foreskin is still attached to the glans (tip of the penis).
- Do not try to push the foreskin of a young boy back until it can move freely by itself. Pushing it away from the glans may cause damage to the tip of the penis or the foreskin.
- With time, the foreskin moves back more easily, and boys should be encouraged to wash under the foreskin every time they bathe or shower. The age when this happens is variable – different for different boys (Usually 2 – 3 years).
- Make sure that they know to push the foreskin down over the tip of the penis after they have washed it. If it stays up, the foreskin may swell (drainage of blood away from the foreskin may be affected), and the foreskin can become tight and painful.
- The white substance (smegma) under the foreskin is natural and does not cause health problems – it simply needs to be washed away regularly.
Medical, ethical and legal issues
- Circumcision has become a human rights issue, as many people consider it an unnecessary medical procedure done to children without their consent, removing a healthy part of their body, causing them pain and exposing them to unnecessary risks.
- Female circumcision has been almost universally seen as child abuse, and is forbidden in almost all parts of the world. Why, they ask, is male circumcision not seen the same way?
- In some counties, the legal right of parents to decide to have their son circumcised is being challenged. They have the right to make decisions about treatment of their child for minor illness, but do they have the right to request an operation on a healthy child?
Kim Patra is a qualified Midwife & Nurse Practioner who has been living and working in Bali for over 30 years. She now runs her own Private Practice & Mothers & Babies center at her Community Health Care office in Sanur.
Copyright © 2019 Kim Patra
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