A woman, given the name A. in court documents, could face 14 years in jail for circumcising her 4-year-old son, named M. in documents. In March 2016, she circumcised her son in her home in Eilat, Israel, without using traditional instruments used in Jewish circumcision rituals.
The mom is an asylum-seeker from Eritrea, has been living in Israel for more than a decade and works as a hotel cleaner. She didn't think she did anything illegal and tells the court that in her home in the northeast African country, women customarily perform the procedure. While the procedure can be done a few days after birth, it's still common to do at a later age. Haaretz reports that in the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the circumcision of boys is a "commandment that must be fulfilled, and there is no room for interpretation or personal wishes."
A. learned how to do it from a female relative and says, "This is my son, my baby. After so many requests I made to all sorts of places about how to do it, I took it upon myself and cut."
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According to the indictment, the 37-year-old took her son in her hands and instructed him to sit in silence. The mom didn't respond to her son's crying and appeals but "continued to cut his skin in the upper part of the sexual organ.”
Three days after the circumcision, A. took her son to preschool. She asked her son to lower his trousers so she could explain what happened to the teacher. The teacher reported the incident to authorities, who removed A's children. Her son was taken to the hospital and then placed with a foster family, where he still is. Her daughters were returned to her partner a few months later but A. isn't allowed to spend time with them.
If A. wins and her cultural defense works, this case could set a legal precedence. Past attempts to regulate male circumcision have failed and, according to her lawyer, Moshe Serogovich, there are no existing laws regulating the work of mohels, or Jewish ritual circumcisers.
“For us, a man with a beard and kippa says a few blessings and performs the bris for an 8-day-old baby, and that seems to be the most natural thing in the world to us,” Serogovich said.
But to prosecutors, A's case is too extreme. "We need to draw the line even for the claim of cultural defense. Even in cases of domestic violence, we sometimes run into similar claims in which beating women is acceptable in the defendant’s society. In a country composed of different societal groups, it's a problematic process, and not just because it creates a situation in which different victims receive different protection.”
Male circumcision is one of the oldest and most common surgical procedures performed globally. According to World Health Organization, about one in three males worldwide are circumcised, and the procedure is almost universal in the Middle East, North and West Africa and Central Asia. It is also common in certain ethnic groups in central, eastern and southern Africa, as well as in Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Turkey and the U.S.
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But what can vary dramatically from country to country is the range of providers. This choice usually depends on factors like family or religions tradition, cost and availability. Generally, circumcision provided by medical providers are more expensive than non-medically trained ones, but there has been little data comparing the risks of different methods and types of providers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics found that health benefits of newborn male circumcision in the U.S. outweigh the risks but these benefits aren't great enough to recommend universal newborn circumcision. "The final decision should still be left to parents to make in the context of their religious, ethical and cultural beliefs," said the AAP policy statement.