Intersex legislation considered
30 2004 06:14:21:507PM
South African law on corrective surgery for children with ambiguous
genitals is under consideration, the SA Human Rights Commission has
Town - A law on corrective surgery for children with ambiguous genitals
- intersex children - was under consideration, the SA Human Rights Commission
said on Tuesday.
are looking at the practice of surgery; do we need legislation to regulate
this area, who should decide, when must the decision be taken,"
said Judith Cohen, parliamentary officer for the commission.
commission hosted a seminar on intersex children on Tuesday, asking
whether gender "normalisation" surgery was in the best interests
of the child.
told Sapa the Department of Justice was also considering amendments
to the equality legislation, so that it included the definition of intersex
within the definition of sex.
said debate about intersex children should take place within a human
rights framework, particularly when these children challenged the worldview
of society, which almost exclusively recognised male and female gender.
Ariane Spitaels, a paediatrician at the University of Stellenbosch's
faculty of health sciences, said it was necessary to reconsider surgery
performed shortly after birth.
cut is final and irreversible," she said.
said doctors and parents usually did not know before birth if a child
said parents faced huge societal pressure. They usually worried about
what would happen when the child reached puberty, what their child's
sexual orientation would be, and whether the child could have children
of its own one day.
Gross, founder of the Intersex Society of South Africa, who was classified
as male at birth and known as Selwyn, said the issue concerned human
diversity and human rights.
struggle... is quite simply to be seen as a human being and not as a
walking, talking pathological specimen," she said.
who escaped gender reassignment surgery, said the temptation to fix
things quickly with surgery was a mistake, and legislation was needed
to regulate surgery.
rights such as the right not to have one's body violated should be fostered.
Surgery, however well-intentioned, could be a violation of such rights.
of the gender normalisation surgery performed was feminisation, and
described the procedure to keep open a pseudo-vagina as "hellishly
painful" for adults, let alone for toddlers.
[surgery] must be measured against hard objective criteria; is this
necessary to preserve life or physical health... if not it should not
be possible in law to perform that surgery."
said South Africa had possibly the world's highest prevalence of intersex
children, with uncorroborated figures suggesting a national population
ratio of 1:500, or about 90 000 individuals.
the seminar, commission chairman Jody Kollapen, said the preamble to
the Constitution spoke about freeing the potential of each person, and
asked whether surgery curtailed this potential.
said while legislation was important, it would by "naive"
to think that legislation alone could reach the recesses of the mind,
where "assumptions and prejudices thrived".
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