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Amnesty denounces ‘human rights violations’ on intersex children

Elena Cherubini May 11, 2017
Baby kiss

A new report from Amnesty International has denounced invasive surgical practices to ‘normalise’ intersex children as a violation of their human rights.

The report, called ‘First, Do No Harm’, focused specifically on Germany and Denmark where evidence found that intersex children are subject to invasive, non-emergency, irreversible surgery to fit gender stereotypes.

Intersex is the term used to refer to people with variations of physical characteristics – such as chromosomes or reproductive organs – that do not fit as “male” or “female”.

“These interventions may violate human rights, including the rights of the child, the right to physical and bodily integrity and the right to the highest attainable standard of health,” the report stated.

Amnesty report

The most common operations consist of hiding or enlarging the clitoris, removing the gonads, and cosmetic vaginal surgery that aims to feminise the appearance of the body.

The report stated that many of these surgeries carry risks of nerve damage, scarring and pain and may result in patients’ needing lifelong hormone treatment.

“The only thing he [the doctor] wanted to treat me with was testosterone … ‘to make a man out of me’,” an intersex woman in Denmark named Stine told Amnesty.

Many of the people who experienced these types of surgeries reported a negative physical or psychological outcome both at the time and subsequently.

Amnesty claims that while in some cases there may be a medical purpose for the surgery, often it is performed to make the child fit into the ideal of a binary gender system.

The operations are justified on the basis that they will assign the child one of the two ‘standard’ gender options and prevent future bullying.

“So that the boy can pee standing up,” staff at a Danish hospital said of why surgery is conducted.

The report continued: “These justifications are based on deeply ingrained gender stereotypes: that gender is binary, that children will grow up to be heterosexual, and that children whose bodies are gender non-conforming will suffer psychological damage as a result.”

Sandrao, who was operated on as a child in Germany, told Amnesty: “The medical profession only thinks in this gender binary system.

“Instead of saying your child is normal, and will grow up healthily, they say something is wrong and it can be fixed with surgery.”

Parents have told Amnesty that they were not provided with enough information to decide on their child’s medical procedures and they did not receive any psychological support after their child was treated.

In Denmark, the Health Authority has not laid out guidelines for the treatment of intersex individuals.

In Germany guidelines exist, but Amnesty deemed them insufficient to prevent a violation of human rights.

Amnesty is pushing the governments of these countries to act in collaboration with medical staff to create guidelines respecting the human rights of intersex people.

In 2015, Malta has became first country to ban unnecessary surgery on intersex children.

Earlier this year, the European Parliament called for more action to protect intersex and trans people’s mental health.

More: Amnesty, Children, Denmark, denmark, Europe, Germany, Germany, intersex, LGBT, LGBT rights

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