Plug the loophole in circumcision law fast
On Wednesday a Ngcobo magistrate made a ruling that will have a profound impact: parents have a right to grant consent for underage youths to undergo circumcision.
The verdict emerged in the acquittal of a prominent AbaThembu chief from Ngcobo, a traditional surgeon and a father, charged with unlawfully circumcising a 16-year-old.
The ruling could not have come at a worse time for us in the Eastern Cape. In less than a month from now, thousands of boys are expected to troop to the mountains for the winter initiation season. Yet the judgment has brought in a serious dilemma for all stakeholders because all along the general understanding has been that boys under 18 should not be circumcised.
While going through ulwaluko (initiation) as a rite of passage is every boy’s dream in most parts of our province, the reality is that the tradition has brought many tears to many families.
Between June 2006 and December 2019, 845 initiates died, which is an average of 65 deaths per year. Over the same period 320 boys had penile amputations and 8,156 were admitted to hospital. Those with penile amputations will endure this mutilation for the rest of their lives.
We agree with NPA senior prosecuting advocate Thango Pangalele that: “If children below the age of 18 are allowed to undergo the rite, that would open an uncontrollable floodgate of absurd consequences with even nine-year-old boys wanting to go for circumcision."
Those entrusted with implementing our laws need to stop sleeping on duty
However, we cannot fault the magistrate in her finding. She simply interpreted the law as passed by the Eastern Cape legislature in 2016. Where were the legislature and Cogta legal advisers for the past five years who did not pick this loophole?
It sounds like an irony, if not a deliberate effort to mislead the public, that traditional leaders seem shocked by the judgment. What is their duty if they are unable to interpret laws that have such profound implications for the young men in our province?
We do not encourage people to look for loopholes in laws. However, those entrusted with implementing them need to stop sleeping on duty. Members of the legislature, traditional leaders and Cogta need to act with speed to plug this loophole.
Surely, we don't want underage boys to undergo the rite. That will soil what is meant by a good tradition that brings joy and pride to families.
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