Denmark’s debate on male circumcision heats up

An upcoming vote in parliament for an age restriction has sparked a debate, as to whether or not non-medical circumcision of underage boys should be banned.

By Emil Rosborg and Clíona Perrick.


What is more important; religious freedom or the child’s right to choose?

This raises ethical and religious debate amongst people in Denmark that has popped up during the last year. A civil proposal that has received the required 50.000 signatures to bring the question of parents’ religious freedom versus the child’s rights over their own body to parliament. The issue has gained a lot of public support, however, politicians are divided on how to act regarding the ban, as they fear backlash from religious communities. 

According to Lena Nyhus ChairWoman of Intact Denmark; an organisation which opposes the circumcision of children, the issue of bodily autonomy is a very personal choice, that the child has to live with for the rest of their lives. The organisation is against children being exposed to a medical surgery that has no purpose. But it is a difficult task, as there are different opinions on what “religious freedom” actually means, says Lena Nyhus:

“There is a clash between factions in politics and religion, where some view religious freedom as something parents are allowed to expose their children to without consent, whereas others see it as a personal right of the child.”

Lena also hopes that Denmark could serve as a pilot country for introducing age restrictions on circumcision. The debate has also spread to Iceland where an age restriction seems possible in the not-so-distant future. Countries like Spain and The Netherlands have also shown interest in the topic.


Ban could be fatal for the Jewish Community

If Denmark were to implement an age restriction on circumcision, it could have major consequences for the 5000 to 8000 Jews in Denmark. Being circumcised on the 8th day in their life is paramount to the Jewish identity and religion, whether or not they are secular or orthodox, says Jonas Karpantschof, a political spokesman for the Jewish Community in Denmark:

“It is a cornerstone of Judaism. It is a pact between God and the Jewish people, so there is no way around it. Furthermore, it is a mark of identity for secular Jews, who do not necessarily go to the synagogue.”

According to Jonas Karpantschof, the Jews would hardly pack their bags and leave the country overnight if an age restriction was implemented, but the Jewish Community could be endangered in the long run:


“I think that it would be impossible to maintain a Jewish community in Denmark in the long run. People would start to ask whether there is room for being  Jewish in Denmark. It is the orthodox way that upholds the community, and if they disappear, i think it would slowly fade away.”


Politicians divided

At the moment it is hard to figure out what the parliament will decide on the issue. Several parties have released their members on the vote, which makes it difficult to predict what the outcome will be.

Political critics of the proposal have argued that an age restriction would effectively force the jews out of Denmark, and that it could pose a security risk, should the MP’s vote for the proposal.

However, some parties have said that they would collectively support a ban. One of these parties is Socialistisk Folkeparti, they believe that the child’s right should be prioritised before religious considerations, says Jakob Mark, Group Leader of SF:

“In our opinion, the child’s best interest must come before religious considerations, and we do not believe that it is in the child’s best interest to cut them before they can decide for themselves.”

Responding to the threat of the Jewish Community in Denmark fading away as a result of the age restriction, Jakob Mark finds it unlikely that this would be the consequence:

“I doubt that. If you are forced out of a country because you have to abide by some rules created to protect children, I would think that it would be stupid and unfortunate if they made that decision. But that’s how it is when we make laws in the parliament – you’ll have to comply with them.”


The debate continues, with a decision being made in parliament within the next month. This will decide whether the initiative will be successful or not.