In the coverage of Iceland’s proposed ban of male circumcision of minors, I’ve come across comments saying that it’d be the first European country to do so, suggesting that non-European countries do so. I had a look at Wikipedia’s article on male circumcision and the law and apart from possibly some jurisdictions in South Africa (I found the wording confusing), possibly the USSR, and possibly Nazi Germany, I couldn’t find any examples of male circumcision being banned.

Male circumcision occurs outside of Europe - not only do many Muslims do it, but it’s done by South Koreans.

Are there any countries that currently ban male circumcision of minors?


2 Answers 2


A number of countries are coming close, but I found no evidence any country is totally there. Example:


According to the current information on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumcision_and_law , Australia, Iceland, Norway and Sweden seem to be coming close to such legislation.

  • Links can die. Could you maybe summarize the countries that are coming close? Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 11:22
  • added examples. Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 12:33

No country has banned male circumcision (MC). There have been serious attempts and proposals in a number of countries, but none has been enacted in law. A number of countries below are addressed where the law is either not clear/disputed, or where serious attempts have been made to prohibit MC. I may have missed a few countries (e.g. I know some other Scandinavian/N. European countries have movements for a ban, but Sweden/Iceland seem to represent key features), but I believe this list is fairly representative.

South Africa

The Children's Act 2010 prohibited infant MC on boys under 16 years of age "unless done for religious or medical reasons". (Children's Act 2010, Section 12(8)):

(8) Circumcision of male children under the age of 16 is prohibited, except when - a) Circumcision is performed for religious purposes in accordance with the practices of the religion concerned and in the manner prescribed or; b) Circumcision is performed for medical reasons on the recommendation of a medical practitioner

This act seems to have been passed in response to a growing number of hospitalizations and serious complications arising from MC as practiced by the Xhosa tribe as an initiation ritual. See [1] for a report by Dutch Doctor, Dr Dingeman Rijken on Xhosa circumcisions.

Whilst this law arguably seems to provide the greatest protection for boys against MC in the world, in practice it has a number of loopholes. A prohibition on MC "unless done for religious or medical reasons" permits MC as performed in Judaism and Islam (with Islam accounting for the majority of MC worldwide). It is not clear what constitutes "medical reasons" - with the South African government encouraging MC [2] as part of a WHO drive to combat HIV clinics which offer MC for both men and boys are increasing in number. MC is increasingly seen as the "norm" in South Africa, and this law seems more targeted at preventing "bush circumcisions" (e.g Xhosa initiation rites) than preventing MC per se.


In 2001 Sweden introduced a law which allowed only practitioners qualified by the National Board of Health to circumcise infants (2001:499 - [3]), and placed restrictions on the conditions under which circumcision can be performed. The law states:

Section 5 - Circumcision may only be performed by a licensed doctor or by a person who has a special permit to perform circumcision of boys. A person other than a licensed doctor may not perform circumcision on boys older than two months.

These special permits allow religious practitioners to practice MC on children under 2 months of age subject to conditions:

Section 6 A special permit to perform circumcision may be granted to a person proposed by a religious community where circumcision is part of a religious tradition, if the person has the competence prescribed on the basis of section 11 , is deemed to be able to perform the procedure in accordance with the applicable requirements. for the procedure and is otherwise suitable for performing circumcisions

2nd statement - The Inspectorate for Health and Care Services examines questions in accordance with the first paragraph upon application by the person who is proposed to receive a permit. Lag (2012: 946).

These special permits can be revoked if the Inspectorate for Health and Care Service's deems it appropriate (e.g. in the case of unsafe circumcisions):

Section 7 The Health and Care Inspectorate may decide to revoke a special permit to perform circumcision for a person who has performed circumcision in an unskilled or otherwise inappropriate manner or who for other reasons is unsuitable to perform circumcision or if the permit is no longer used.

2nd statement - The Inspectorate for Health and Care Services' decision to revoke a permit applies immediately. Lag (2012: 946).

The law stipulates that pain relief is provided, and that the circumcision takes place under suitably hygienic conditions:

Section 4 The procedure shall be performed with pain relief provided by a licensed doctor or licensed nurse, under reassuring hygienic conditions and with regard to what is best for the boy.

The law requires that a medical practitioner administers the pain relief, and this has proved controversial, with Jews and Muslims believing this to be an infringement of their religious freedom [4]. Moreover, many physicians in Sweden refuse to perform circumcision/administer anaesthetic for circumcisions as they believe MC to be ethically problematic, which has caused consternation amongst Jews/Muslisms, as this can make MC services difficult to obtain.

The "Swedish approach" can be contrasted with the approach taken in Iceland. Sweden has tightly regulated MC without actually prohibiting it. Some groups in Iceland have pushed for full-on prohibition, but this proposal has been "put on ice".


In February 2018 the Progressive party proposed a bill that would amend the General Penal Code, Article 218a (a law passed in 2005 prohibiting FGC/M) to be gender-neutral. Article 218a reads:

Article 218a - Any person who, in an assault, causes physical injury or damage to the health of a girl child or woman by removing her sexual organs, partly or in their entirety, shall be imprisoned for up to 6 years. If the assault results in serious physical injury or health damage, or in death, or if it is considered particularly reprehensible due to the method used, punishment for the offence shall take the form of up to 16 years' imprisonment

The Progressive party suggested amending "girl child" to "child" and "her sexual organs" to "their sexual organs", thereby criminalising MC. This amendment was discussed in 2018. Despite reports to the contrary, it appears that this amendment is still a "work in progress" [6]. A number of influential contributions were made. The Anti-Defamation League stated that [7]:

" The proposal to ban male circumcision is and contrary to basic principles of religious freedom and deeply offensive to Jews and Muslims.


The Anti-Defamation League is the leading monitor of far-right extremism and foremost expert in the United States. Should Iceland ban male circumcision, making it impossible for Jews and Muslims to raise families in your country, we guarantee that Iceland will be celebrated by neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other extremists. Even though anti-Semitism was surely not the impetus for the proposal, the result of its adoption will be the glorification of Iceland by the most despicable bigots. They will celebrate the ban as the flrst legislation in Europe since World War II towards making a country Judenrein, free of Jews.


Given that 28% of Iceland’s tourists came from North America in 2016, Iceland’s standing in the U.S. should be of great concern from an economic perspective, We are confident that the vast majority of American tourists will avoid a country whose reputation is associated with Nazism, even if that association is not justified. "

It is not clear (at least to the author), the political weight which was given to this statement.

Another statement from "Jews against circumcision" wrote a letter to the Alping (Iceland's parliament), rejecting these statements from the ADL:

"We are also writing in rebuttal to letters that you have received in opposition to the proposed legislation from several prominent Jewish organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities and the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations. We want it to be known that, on the matter of involuntary circumcision, these organizations do not speak for all Jews and they do not speak for us. "


The legal status of MC in Finland seems somewhat unclear. [12] states:

"While non-medical male circumcision is not currently prohibited under Finland’s legislation, it is considered to violate the child’s bodily integrity and self-determination."

The same source also states:

"The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health provides instructions on non-medical male circumcision Non-medical male circumcision is not part of publicly funded health care.

  • Circumcision may only be performed by an authorised physician.

  • Before performing a circumcision, a physician must provide the child’s guardians with sufficient information about the nature, effects and possible disadvantages of circumcision and the irreversibility of the procedure.

  • The written consent of the guardians is needed and circumcision may not be performed if one of the guardians opposes it.

  • Circumcision may not be performed if the boy opposes it when he is able to understand its meaning based on his age and level of development.

  • Circumcision must be performed under appropriate and sterile conditions under local anaesthesia administered by the physician."

There is no clear law on MC in Finland. The source above suggests that there is a general disapproval of MC within the professional class in Finland, but that there is no clear law. In spite of this a court ruled that MC of a Muslim boy was not a crime [13]. In another case the parents of a Jewish boy were ordered to pay 1500Euros to their son in damages for his circumcision which was performed without anaesthesia and resulted in hospitilization due to excessive bleeding [14] There appears to be no immediate changes pending to Finnish law on MC.


In May 2012 the regional court in Cologne ruled that MC amounts to a bodily injury and is considered to be a crime in it's jurisdiction [15]. This caused great distress amongst Jews and Muslims living in Germany [16] stating that it was a "serious attack on religious freedom". On the 12 December 2012 the Bundestag adopted proposed legislation which would explicitly legalise MC [17]. Some legal scholars have suggested that this implied MC was previously impermissible - instead of ruling that the Cologne court had interpreted the law correctly, the suggestion is that they did in fact interpret the law correctly, and for MC to be permissible required an additional act explicitly permitting it.

United Kingdom

In the UK MC is "presumed to be legal", and there have been no particularly notable attempts to change the law. Despite this some legal scholars [18,19] have suggested that there is no basis for the presumption of the legality of MC.

In 2015 Sir James Munby (the then President of the Family Division of the High Court of England & Wales) states in a case regarding FGC/M that:

"FGM Type IV amounts to significant harm, as in my judgment it does, then the same must be so of male circumcision"

And that:

"on any objective view it might be thought that G would have had subjected to a process much less invasive, no more traumatic (if, indeed, as traumatic) and with no greater long-term consequences, whether physical, emotional or psychological, than the process to which B has been or will be subjected"

Although he then went onto to clarify this position:

"both involve significant harm, there is a very clear distinction in family law between FGM and male circumcision"

And that:

"In 2015 the law generally, and family law in particular, is still prepared to tolerate non-therapeutic male circumcision performed for

religious or even for purely cultural or conventional reasons, while no longer being willing to tolerate FGM in any of its forms"

This position seems to have been based on the common perception that MC and FGC/M have very different underlying motivations - that MC is a religious practice (in Judaism and Islam), and that FGC is not a religious practice (although this is disputed by legal scholars, anthropologists etc.), and also on the possibility of health benefits:

"FGM has no basis in any religion; male circumcision is often performed for religious reasons. FGM has no medical justification and confers no health benefits; male circumcision is seen by some (although opinions are divided) as providing hygienic or prophylactic benefits. Be that as it may, “reasonable” parenting is treated as permitting male circumcision."

These statements were not legally binding (they were obiter dictum - opininings of a judge not essential to the judgement and hence not legally binding as a precedent). These statements do however shed light on the reasoning for the current legal status of MC

Historical - USSR

There seems to be conflicting reports on whether MC was prohibited in the USSR [8,9]. Regardless it appears that MC was not widely practiced among Jews in the USSR, regardless of the legal status: [9]

"There was no official prohibition of circumcision and, on the whole, even the propaganda attacks on it were relatively restrained, apparently out of consideration for the presence of many millions of Moslems [...] in the Soviet Union. But at the same time numerous pressures were exerted to make observance of [circumcision] difficult. Needless to say, Jewish members of the Communist Party were in an embarrassing situation when they personally faced the question whether to circumcise their sons [...] And the uncertainty weighed heaviest on the mohalim themselves [...] Any health problem developing in the baby some time after circumcision could serve to incriminate the mohel. It is easy to imagine, for example, the impact of news items on the death of children because of [...] circumcision (and the punishments imposed on mohalim), even if there were no explicit legal bans on circumcision."

And indeed there are reports of large scale circumcisions of Jews from the USSR undergoing circumcision on migration to Israel [10, 11].

I'd imagine it was much the same situation in Nazi Germany - that MC was not prohibited per se, but was certainly discouraged by other persecutions - but haven't found any particularly revealing sources on this - If anyone wants to add a section for Nazi Germany, feel free.









[9]Jehoshua A. Gilboa, A Language Silenced: The Suppression of Hebrew Literature and Culture in the Soviet Union (London: Associated University Press, 1982), pp. 34–35








[17]German Civil Code 1631(d) - http://dipbt.bundestag.de/dip21/btd/17/112/1711295.pdf




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