| PIETERMARITZBURG

Nine-year-old circumcised at school by “mistake”

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Doctor and health team suspended

The government’s medical male circumcision programme is preventing many HIV infections, but consent from parents or guardians must be obtained before children are circumcised. Photo: Wikimedia user Rickyblax (CC BY-SA 4.0)
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A nine-year-old learner in Eastwood, Pietermaritzburg, was circumcised by “mistake” by a family health programme at his school. The family has opened a case with the police.

The grade 3 learner from Panorama Primary underwent a medical circumcision without his mother’s consent and not in accordance with Xhosa tradition.

“I did not approve of the procedure,” said guardian Gugu Hlengwa, the sister of the child’s mother. She said the boy had brought a consent form, but she did not sign it as the mother did not approve.

“I knew of the incident when the [health programme] recruiters came knocking at my door. They told me the child has been circumcised by mistake. I was confused because I didn’t submit the consent form to the school. They apologised for the incident, but still I didn’t understand,” Hlengwa said.

The Department of Health promotes male medical circumcision. It is a safe operation. Three large clinical trials and many other studies have shown that heterosexual men who are circumcised have a much lower risk of contracting HIV. Department of Health guidelines state that children under 18 must have parental or guardian consent. If the child is over 16, he too must agree to the process. The problems in this case were that the child was very young and that Hlengwa did not consent.

“Circumcision is sensitive and treasured culture for the Xhosa nation,” said Hlengwa. “This procedure has ruined the child’s manhood … Medical circumcision is not an option unless the parents decide to do it … What they have done can’t be reversed.”

Colonel Thembeka Mbhele of the KwaZulu-Natal police confirmed that a case of unlawful circumcision was opened at Mountain Rise police station.

The family visited the school for clarity and recorded the conversation. A voice identified by the family as the school principal can be heard saying she noticed there were two boys under age on the list of learners taken for circumcision. “At the time I saw the list, the learners had been fetched already [to be taken to the surgery].”

She says she was on the phone with the programme recruiter and was told that parents had signed the consent form. She says she told them not to continue with the surgery as the children were underage.

Society for Family Health Country Director Miriam Mhazo said the organisation was aware of the incident and sincerely regretted what happened. Mhazo said the doctor and the specific team involved had been suspended “while we are continuing with investigations”.

“We are working with the UMgungundlovu District Department of Health … to resolve this matter and ensure that it does not happen again. The District Department of Health is working with the guardian directly and we are waiting for a date to meet with the parents,” said Mhazo.

Spokesperson for the Department of Health Ncumisa Mafunda said that although preliminary evidence showed that none of the persons involved in the matter are employed by the department but by an NGO, the department has nevertheless instituted an enquiry into the matter.

Spokesperson for the Department of Education Kwazi Mthethwa said the department has not received a formal complaint. “We respect the culture of our learners and educators. In a democratic country everyone has the right of belonging. However, we cannot base our decision on a media report. We would have to receive information from both parties. We are in no position to judge at the moment.”

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