The provincial department of health is to start an ambitious and controversial programme by circumcising infant boys from April next year as part of a strategy to minimise their chances of contracting HIV.
Where infant circumcision is done for religious or cultural reasons, it has often by criticised by child rights activists, who argue that it deprives a child of the opportunity to choose. Punitha Naidoo of the Medical Rights Advocacy Network said the department's child circumcision initiative was on very shaky legal ground.
"The Children's Act states very clearly that a child cannot be subjected to bodily mutilation without his/her consent. It also states that the child must be older than 16 years of age for cultural circumcision to be allowed," she said.
Health MEC Sbongiseni Dhlomo told The New Age that infant circumcision would be done only surgically. The Tara Klamp would not be used on babies. The provincial health department has used the Tara Klamp during medical male circumcisions despite safety concerns raised by the Treatment Action Campaign.
Dhlomo said KZN would circumcise 10% of all boy infants. "Parents would not be compelled to submit their infant boys to do circumcision. We will just make this procedure available to those who need it," he said. "We will inform parents and educate them about how convenient and safe (it is) for their sons to be circumcised in their first few days of life," Dhlomo said.
Naidoo said the Children's Act allows Muslims and Jewish infants to undergo circumcision and "even here parents have to sign special forms". She said child rights organisations could take the government to court if it was go ahead with the programme. "The parents and the government could be sued by the child later in life if he experiences problems with his genitals due to the circumcision," said Naidoo.
The department launched its medical circumcision programme early this year and so far more than 18000 – mainly young – men, have undergone the procedure. The head of HIV programmes in the provincial health department, Sandile Shabalala, said that the department was getting legal opinion and training staff for the roll-out of the infant circumcision programme in April.