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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 14:38 GMT
Circumcision dangers spelt out
East London mosque
A meeting was held at East London Mosque
By BBC London's John McManus

Muslim boys in London are risking infection and mutilation by inexperienced and bogus circumcision practitioners.

Circumcision is widely practiced among Muslim communities, though the age at which boys are circumcised varies.

The practice is only available through the NHS if there are compelling medical reasons, though local GP's may carry out the operation themselves.

Problems arise when the procedure is carried out in an unsterile environment, such as the boy's home. This can leave the boys open to infection.

A bigger problem are the "community practitioners", people who have no medical training, who carry out the circumcisions themselves.

Crisis meeting

At a meeting held last week at the East London Mosque, concerned parents, community leaders and doctors gathered to try and find a solution to the problem.

The Royal London Hospital, which serves much of London's East End, treated 32 boys who were suffering from circumcision complications this summer.

Matthew Ryan from Tower Hamlets Community Health Council, said the Hospital experienced a flood of sick boys every summer, as parents had their children circumcised over the long summer holidays, to allow them time to heal.

And one Muslim parent told BBC London that his sons, aged 5 and 10, were left in agony after being circumcised by a "community practitioner".

Six people had to hold the boys down while they were circumcised without an anasthestic, and his GP was horrified when he later examined the children.

The five-year-old eventually had to be kept isolated in hospital for 10 days while he recovered.

Within the law

Male circumcision, unlike the female variety, isn't illegal in Britain.

It's classed as "consensual assault", similar to tattooing, and anyone can legally carry it out.

If a GP is involved they must have had training.

Unlike other forms of medicine, no list of registered practitioners exists, which is why parents often turn to unqualified people recommended to them through the Muslim community.

Circumcision is practiced by nearly all of Britain's Muslims, says The Royal London's Muslim chaplain, Shafiqur Rahman.

"Circumcision has been the practice of the Holy Prophets, from Abraham to Mohammed.

"So it's an act of virtue to follow the Prophets, as well as a health choice."

NHS call

Mr Rahman believes the only way to protect Muslim boys from serious injury is to provide Circumcision through the NHS, monitoring procedures and making Doctors more accountable.

The scale of the problem in London may lead to the NHS agreeing to provide the service. Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust is considering plans to offer the service for free, and are due to comment tomorrow.

But they may decide to fund circumcisions on younger children only.

Other areas of Britain, such as Leeds, already carry out the procedure for religious, rather than medical reasons.

In the meantime, the Trust is issuing an information pack to parents, to alert them to the dangers posed by unqualified practitioners.

See also:

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