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Iceland Violates Human Rights By Performing Surgery On Intersex Children

Iceland Violates Human Rights By Performing Surgery On Intersex Children

Alice Demurtas
Words by
Photos by
Art Bicnick

Published February 19, 2018

According to Piet de Bruyn, General Rapporteur on the rights of LGBT people appointed by the Council of Europe, Iceland has been violating the human rights of countless individuals for decades by performing irreversible surgery on intersex children, RÚV reports.

A problem to fix

For those who don’t know, intersex individuals are born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not fit the typical definition of male or female. This can include both visible characteristic, which can manifest themselves in one’s genitalia, and genetic characteristics, with particular mosaics of chromosomes.

The Grapevine had already reported on the difficulties of transitioning in Iceland, and how Iceland’s legislation still falls behind other countries when it comes to even the most basic rights of intersex people. At a medical level, intersex people are often looked at as a problem to fix. Parents are therefore pressured into sending their children into surgery so that they fit a specific male or female anatomy.

A network of lies

However, as the chairperson of Intersex Iceland Kitty Anderson told The Grapevine, besides taking care of cosmetic issues said surgeries are completely unnecessary. “It’s taking a set of genitals that don’t quite align with what a girl or boy should be born with and force it into one direction or another, and then assign the child a gender to grow up with,” Kitty said. “It’s not only legal to do this with infants; it’s preferred.”

In addition to the unnecessary surgery and hormonal therapy, the life of these children and their families becomes a network of lies and silence that affects them both at a social and psychological level. “In my case, my mother was told to lie to me until I was thirteen years old,” Kitty told RÚV. “We were told never to discuss this with anyone. My doctor scolded me when I confessed that I had started telling my friends about it. My mother wasn’t allowed to tell her sister or her parents about it. It’s just something that should never be talked about.”

Rethinking the system

Treatment such as this has been condemned by the United Nations as a violation of The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, as well as of The Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to Piet de Bruyn, Iceland is in dire need of new laws that ban the discrimination of intersex people. Furthermore, the government should rethink completely the role of the healthcare system when it comes to intersex individuals. In particular, re-educating healthcare professionals in order to provide proper medical and psychological care is a crucial task for the future.

“Oftentimes the reason that’s given to a parent to justify such procedures is that the child will have difficulties adapting to society if their biological characteristics are somewhat different,” Kitty explains. “But why are we forcing children to adapt to society? Why don’t we change society so that there is in fact room for everyone here?”


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