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Some Danish and German children are undergoing invasive surgery to “normalise” their gender.

Human rights group Amnesty International has launched a report examining how some children born with sex characteristics that do not fit in with gender norms are undergoing unnecessary and traumatising medical procedures.

The First, Do No Harm campaign uses case studies from both Denmark and Germany to highlight how gender stereotypes are leading to invasive, irreversible and potentially harmful surgery on children born intersex. Amnesty says such procedures violate their human rights, namely the right to a private life and right to the highest attainable standard of health. Experts from the United Nations have also condemned the practice.

Laura Carter, researcher on sexual orientation and gender identity at Amnesty International, told us:

“These so-called ‘normalising’ procedures are being carried out without full knowledge of the potentially harmful long-term effects they are having on children. We’re talking about incisions being made to sensitive tissue, with life-long consequences, all because of stereotypes about what a boy or girl should look like. The question is whose benefit is this for, because our research shows it has been an incredibly harrowing experience for individuals.”

She added:

“The Danish and German authorities are failing in their duty to protect these children. With the current lack of medical research and knowledge in this area, life changing and irreversible decisions should not be being made when the child is too young to have a say in what is being done to them.”

Although in some cases, medical intervention may be necessary to protect the child’s life or health, that is certainly not always the case. The reality is invasive medical procedures are being performed on infants and children, despite the lack of medical research to support their necessity.

Amnesty reports that approximately 1.7% of the worldwide population have variations of sex characteristics. That’s the same amount of people who have red hair.

Some of the people who have undergone these procedures have spoken out about the physical and mental pain they have suffered.

Sandrao from Germany said:

“When I was five I had surgery to remove testicles. I had other operations, other genital surgery. I don’t know if I had a vagina at birth or if it was a reconstruction. My urethra is a different position. I saw a gynaecologist in 2014 and there is a lot of scarring. I knew I was different, I thought I was some kind of monster. I was unable to develop a gender identity. I was pressed into the female role, I had to wear skirts, I had to have long hair. It was painful to have sex with men and I thought this was normal.”

H from Denmark admitted:

“When I think about what happened, I get upset, because it wasn’t something for anyone else to decide – it could have waited. I get sad when I think about the fact that it is considered necessary to operate on these children, only because other people think it should be done.”

Amnesty is now urging legislators and medical professionals in Germany and Denmark to make sure that no child is subjected to unnecessary treatment of this kind.

They say decisions over what happens to a person’s body should wait until the individual is old enough to meaningfully participate in them. They recommend that medical professionals should be trained on gender and body diversity and that those who have suffered unnecessary medical interventions should be compensated. They also say that authorities must stop perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes.

For more about the First, Do No Harm campaign, visit Amnesty’s website.

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