Tag Archives: over

WHO warns over measles immunisation rates as cases rise 400% across Europe

2017 saw more than 21,000 cases and 35 deaths, with large outbreaks in one in four countries, says World Health Organisation

Confidence in the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine was damaged following discredited claims linking it to autism.


Confidence in the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine was damaged following discredited claims linking it to autism. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Measles cases have soared across Europe over the last year, with large outbreaks affecting one in four countries, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) which is concerned by low rates of immunisation against the disease.

WHO Europe says there has been a 400% increase during 2017, with more than 21,000 cases and 35 deaths. That will be a major disappointment following the record low in 2016, when there were just 5,273 cases in Europe.

“Every new person affected by measles in Europe reminds us that unvaccinated children and adults, regardless of where they live, remain at risk of catching the disease and spreading it to others who may not be able to get vaccinated,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe. “Over 20,000 cases of measles, and 35 lives lost in 2017 alone, are a tragedy we simply cannot accept.”

Measles can kill or cause long-term damage. One in every thousand children affected develops encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain and can lead to deafness or learning difficulties.

Measles is targeted for elimination around the world, because of the efficacy of the vaccine, but it has been bedevilled by regular outbreaks. WHO said there were large outbreaks last year in 15 of the 53 countries in the European region. Romania was worst affected with 5,562 cases, followed by Italy with 5,006 and Ukraine with 4,767.

Immunisation in those countries has hit a number of problems in recent years. There have been declines in overall routine immunisation coverage, consistently low coverage among some marginalised groups, interruptions in vaccine supply or underperforming disease surveillance systems.

Greece (967), Germany (927), Serbia (702), Tajikistan (649), France (520), the Russian Federation (408), Belgium (369), the United Kingdom (282), Bulgaria (167), Spain (152), Czechia (146) and Switzerland (105) also experienced large outbreaks, many of which were in decline by the close of 2017.

Confidence in the MMR – measles, mumps and rubella – vaccine and in immunisation generally has been an issue in Europe and in the United States following the discredited claims of the researcher Andrew Wakefield, who linked the MMR to the development of autism.

WHO warns over measles immunisation rates as cases rise 400% across Europe

2017 saw more than 21,000 cases and 35 deaths, with large outbreaks in one in four countries, says World Health Organisation

Confidence in the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine was damaged following discredited claims linking it to autism.


Confidence in the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine was damaged following discredited claims linking it to autism. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Measles cases have soared across Europe over the last year, with large outbreaks affecting one in four countries, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) which is concerned by low rates of immunisation against the disease.

WHO Europe says there has been a 400% increase during 2017, with more than 21,000 cases and 35 deaths. That will be a major disappointment following the record low in 2016, when there were just 5,273 cases in Europe.

“Every new person affected by measles in Europe reminds us that unvaccinated children and adults, regardless of where they live, remain at risk of catching the disease and spreading it to others who may not be able to get vaccinated,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe. “Over 20,000 cases of measles, and 35 lives lost in 2017 alone, are a tragedy we simply cannot accept.”

Measles can kill or cause long-term damage. One in every thousand children affected develops encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain and can lead to deafness or learning difficulties.

Measles is targeted for elimination around the world, because of the efficacy of the vaccine, but it has been bedevilled by regular outbreaks. WHO said there were large outbreaks last year in 15 of the 53 countries in the European region. Romania was worst affected with 5,562 cases, followed by Italy with 5,006 and Ukraine with 4,767.

Immunisation in those countries has hit a number of problems in recent years. There have been declines in overall routine immunisation coverage, consistently low coverage among some marginalised groups, interruptions in vaccine supply or underperforming disease surveillance systems.

Greece (967), Germany (927), Serbia (702), Tajikistan (649), France (520), the Russian Federation (408), Belgium (369), the United Kingdom (282), Bulgaria (167), Spain (152), Czechia (146) and Switzerland (105) also experienced large outbreaks, many of which were in decline by the close of 2017.

Confidence in the MMR – measles, mumps and rubella – vaccine and in immunisation generally has been an issue in Europe and in the United States following the discredited claims of the researcher Andrew Wakefield, who linked the MMR to the development of autism.

Iceland law to outlaw male circumcision sparks row over religious freedom

Jewish and Muslim leaders condemn first European country to propose ban

A boy reacts as paramedics perform a circumcision on him


A boy reacts as paramedics perform a circumcision on him in Ankara, Turkey, in 2017. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Iceland is poised to become the first European country to outlaw male circumcision amid signs that the ritual common to both Judaism and Islam may be a new battleground over religious freedom.

A bill currently before the Icelandic parliament proposes a penalty of up to six years in prison for anyone carrying out a circumcision other than for medical reasons. Critics say the move, which has sparked alarm among religious leaders across Europe, would make life for Jews and Muslims in Iceland unsustainable.

One in three men globally is thought to be circumcised, the vast majority for religious or cultural reasons. Many Jews and Muslims fear the issue of circumcision could become a proxy for antisemitism and Islamophobia, pointing to similar tensions over religious dress and the ritual slaughter of animals for meat.

Muslim and Jewish leaders attacked the proposal, while Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the Catholic Church in the European Union, said the bill was a “dangerous attack” on religious freedom. “The criminalisation of circumcision is a very grave measure that raises deep concern.”

The Icelandic bill says the circumcision of young boys violates their rights and is incompatible with the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. It draws a parallel with female genital mutilation, already outlawed in most European countries.

The bill says circumcisions are performed without anaesthesia, and claims the procedure is often carried out “in homes that are not sterile, and not by doctors but by religious leaders. There is a high risk of infections under such conditions that may lead to death.”

It acknowledges that while parents have the right to give religious guidance to their children, “such a right can never exceed the rights of the child”. Boys who wish to be circumcised for religious or cultural reasons can do so when they reach an age at which they “understand what is involved in such an action”, it suggests.

Iceland’s population of about 336,000 includes tiny Jewish and Muslim communities. There are thought to be some 250 Jews and about 1,500 Muslims.

Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir of the centre-right Progressive party said she had proposed the bill after realising that there was no ban on male circumcision although FGM has been outlawed in Iceland since 2005. “If we have laws banning circumcision for girls, then we should do so for boys,” she said.

“We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief. Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to belief.”

Nordic countries had well-deserved reputations for promoting human rights, she added. “If Iceland backs this, I think other countries will follow.”

The issue of circumcision has been raised in other European countries but none has outlawed it.

According to Milah UK, a Jewish campaign group to protect the right to circumcision, the procedure is only carried out by highly-trained and regulated practitioners, known as mohelim. Boys are usually circumcised at eight days old.

A spokesperson for Milah UK said: “Jewish male neonatal circumcision – known as brit milah – is a non-negotiable element of Jewish identity, common to Jews from all backgrounds and respected in liberal democratic countries. For a country such as Iceland, that considers itself a liberal democracy to ban it, thus making sustainable Jewish life in the country impossible, is extremely concerning.”

Parallels with FGM were unwarranted, Milah UK said. The partial or complete removal of female genitalia could make intercourse difficult and painful and cause serious medical complications. In contrast, circumcision was a minor procedure.

“There is no recognised long-term negative impact on the child for the rest of his life. Millions of men – Jews as well as others – are circumcised around the world, and are unaffected in their everyday lives by having undergone the procedure. Carrying out brit milah on newborn boys is a central requirement of Jewish law,” the spokesperson said.

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, called for respect for the values of openness and tolerance, and added there was no evidence that circumcision was harmful.

“We can only assume that this attempt to ban a core practice of Jewish communities comes from ignorance about the practice and its effect on Jewish children, rather than to send a message that Jews are no longer welcome in Iceland,” he said.

Ahmad Seddeeq, the imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland, said the bill contravened religious freedom. “Circumcision has been practised for centuries, it is deeply rooted in cultural and religious traditions,” he said.

A meeting of religious organisations in Iceland was called earlier this month to discuss the bill, and they hoped to issue a declaration of opposition, he added.

Muslims in Iceland were already travelling to neighbouring countries to have the procedure performed on babies because of the reluctance of local doctors. But, Seddeeq said, “the [medical] benefits of this practice far exceed the risks”.

Jewish and Muslim communities warn that if circumcision is outlawed, the practice will go underground or religious minorities will travel or relocate to countries where it is permitted.

In Germany, a 2012 law permits only trained practitioners to perform circumcisions. It followed a controversial German court ruling which said circumcision “permanently and irreparably changed” a child’s body, and took away the individual’s right to “make his own decision on his religious affiliation”.

The following year, the Council of Europe passed a resolution calling on 47 member states to regulate practices concerning ritual circumcision, “to overcome some of the prevailing traditional methods, which do not take into consideration the best interest of the child and the latest state of medical art”. Israel said the resolution fostered “hate and racist trends in Europe”.

Two years ago, a judge sitting in a British family court said that young children should not be circumcised until they are old enough to decide for themselves. NHS advice is that “the risks associated with circumcisions when carried out by qualified and experienced doctors are small”.

The Icelandic bill comes against a backdrop of a number of European countries prohibiting Islamic religious dress, such as the niqab or burka. This spring the Danish parliament will debate a bill banning full-face veils in public.

Last year Belgium voted to ban halal and kosher meat, citing animal rights. Poland’s government has proposed a law prohibiting kosher slaughter, in a move vehemently opposed by the Jewish community.

The Icelandic bill on circumcision has cross-party backing and wide public support, Gunnarsdóttir said. If it passes its first reading, the bill will go into committee stage for several months before it can become law.

Iceland law to outlaw male circumcision sparks row over religious freedom

Jewish and Muslim leaders condemn first European country to propose ban

A boy reacts as paramedics perform a circumcision on him


A boy reacts as paramedics perform a circumcision on him in Ankara, Turkey, in 2017. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Iceland is poised to become the first European country to outlaw male circumcision amid signs that the ritual common to both Judaism and Islam may be a new battleground over religious freedom.

A bill currently before the Icelandic parliament proposes a penalty of up to six years in prison for anyone carrying out a circumcision other than for medical reasons. Critics say the move, which has sparked alarm among religious leaders across Europe, would make life for Jews and Muslims in Iceland unsustainable.

One in three men globally is thought to be circumcised, the vast majority for religious or cultural reasons. Many Jews and Muslims fear the issue of circumcision could become a proxy for antisemitism and Islamophobia, pointing to similar tensions over religious dress and the ritual slaughter of animals for meat.

Muslim and Jewish leaders attacked the proposal, while Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the Catholic Church in the European Union, said the bill was a “dangerous attack” on religious freedom. “The criminalisation of circumcision is a very grave measure that raises deep concern.”

The Icelandic bill says the circumcision of young boys violates their rights and is incompatible with the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. It draws a parallel with female genital mutilation, already outlawed in most European countries.

The bill says circumcisions are performed without anaesthesia, and claims the procedure is often carried out “in homes that are not sterile, and not by doctors but by religious leaders. There is a high risk of infections under such conditions that may lead to death.”

It acknowledges that while parents have the right to give religious guidance to their children, “such a right can never exceed the rights of the child”. Boys who wish to be circumcised for religious or cultural reasons can do so when they reach an age at which they “understand what is involved in such an action”, it suggests.

Iceland’s population of about 336,000 includes tiny Jewish and Muslim communities. There are thought to be some 250 Jews and about 1,500 Muslims.

Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir of the centre-right Progressive party said she had proposed the bill after realising that there was no ban on male circumcision although FGM has been outlawed in Iceland since 2005. “If we have laws banning circumcision for girls, then we should do so for boys,” she said.

“We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief. Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to belief.”

Nordic countries had well-deserved reputations for promoting human rights, she added. “If Iceland backs this, I think other countries will follow.”

The issue of circumcision has been raised in other European countries but none has outlawed it.

According to Milah UK, a Jewish campaign group to protect the right to circumcision, the procedure is only carried out by highly-trained and regulated practitioners, known as mohelim. Boys are usually circumcised at eight days old.

A spokesperson for Milah UK said: “Jewish male neonatal circumcision – known as brit milah – is a non-negotiable element of Jewish identity, common to Jews from all backgrounds and respected in liberal democratic countries. For a country such as Iceland, that considers itself a liberal democracy to ban it, thus making sustainable Jewish life in the country impossible, is extremely concerning.”

Parallels with FGM were unwarranted, Milah UK said. The partial or complete removal of female genitalia could make intercourse difficult and painful and cause serious medical complications. In contrast, circumcision was a minor procedure.

“There is no recognised long-term negative impact on the child for the rest of his life. Millions of men – Jews as well as others – are circumcised around the world, and are unaffected in their everyday lives by having undergone the procedure. Carrying out brit milah on newborn boys is a central requirement of Jewish law,” the spokesperson said.

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, called for respect for the values of openness and tolerance, and added there was no evidence that circumcision was harmful.

“We can only assume that this attempt to ban a core practice of Jewish communities comes from ignorance about the practice and its effect on Jewish children, rather than to send a message that Jews are no longer welcome in Iceland,” he said.

Ahmad Seddeeq, the imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland, said the bill contravened religious freedom. “Circumcision has been practised for centuries, it is deeply rooted in cultural and religious traditions,” he said.

A meeting of religious organisations in Iceland was called earlier this month to discuss the bill, and they hoped to issue a declaration of opposition, he added.

Muslims in Iceland were already travelling to neighbouring countries to have the procedure performed on babies because of the reluctance of local doctors. But, Seddeeq said, “the [medical] benefits of this practice far exceed the risks”.

Jewish and Muslim communities warn that if circumcision is outlawed, the practice will go underground or religious minorities will travel or relocate to countries where it is permitted.

In Germany, a 2012 law permits only trained practitioners to perform circumcisions. It followed a controversial German court ruling which said circumcision “permanently and irreparably changed” a child’s body, and took away the individual’s right to “make his own decision on his religious affiliation”.

The following year, the Council of Europe passed a resolution calling on 47 member states to regulate practices concerning ritual circumcision, “to overcome some of the prevailing traditional methods, which do not take into consideration the best interest of the child and the latest state of medical art”. Israel said the resolution fostered “hate and racist trends in Europe”.

Two years ago, a judge sitting in a British family court said that young children should not be circumcised until they are old enough to decide for themselves. NHS advice is that “the risks associated with circumcisions when carried out by qualified and experienced doctors are small”.

The Icelandic bill comes against a backdrop of a number of European countries prohibiting Islamic religious dress, such as the niqab or burka. This spring the Danish parliament will debate a bill banning full-face veils in public.

Last year Belgium voted to ban halal and kosher meat, citing animal rights. Poland’s government has proposed a law prohibiting kosher slaughter, in a move vehemently opposed by the Jewish community.

The Icelandic bill on circumcision has cross-party backing and wide public support, Gunnarsdóttir said. If it passes its first reading, the bill will go into committee stage for several months before it can become law.

Iceland law to outlaw male circumcision sparks row over religious freedom

Jewish and Muslim leaders condemn first European country to propose ban

A boy reacts as paramedics perform a circumcision on him


A boy reacts as paramedics perform a circumcision on him in Ankara, Turkey, in 2017. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Iceland is poised to become the first European country to outlaw male circumcision amid signs that the ritual common to both Judaism and Islam may be a new battleground over religious freedom.

A bill currently before the Icelandic parliament proposes a penalty of up to six years in prison for anyone carrying out a circumcision other than for medical reasons. Critics say the move, which has sparked alarm among religious leaders across Europe, would make life for Jews and Muslims in Iceland unsustainable.

One in three men globally is thought to be circumcised, the vast majority for religious or cultural reasons. Many Jews and Muslims fear the issue of circumcision could become a proxy for antisemitism and Islamophobia, pointing to similar tensions over religious dress and the ritual slaughter of animals for meat.

Muslim and Jewish leaders attacked the proposal, while Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the Catholic Church in the European Union, said the bill was a “dangerous attack” on religious freedom. “The criminalisation of circumcision is a very grave measure that raises deep concern.”

The Icelandic bill says the circumcision of young boys violates their rights and is incompatible with the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. It draws a parallel with female genital mutilation, already outlawed in most European countries.

The bill says circumcisions are performed without anaesthesia, and claims the procedure is often carried out “in homes that are not sterile, and not by doctors but by religious leaders. There is a high risk of infections under such conditions that may lead to death.”

It acknowledges that while parents have the right to give religious guidance to their children, “such a right can never exceed the rights of the child”. Boys who wish to be circumcised for religious or cultural reasons can do so when they reach an age at which they “understand what is involved in such an action”, it suggests.

Iceland’s population of about 336,000 includes tiny Jewish and Muslim communities. There are thought to be some 250 Jews and about 1,500 Muslims.

Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir of the centre-right Progressive party said she had proposed the bill after realising that there was no ban on male circumcision although FGM has been outlawed in Iceland since 2005. “If we have laws banning circumcision for girls, then we should do so for boys,” she said.

“We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief. Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to belief.”

Nordic countries had well-deserved reputations for promoting human rights, she added. “If Iceland backs this, I think other countries will follow.”

The issue of circumcision has been raised in other European countries but none has outlawed it.

According to Milah UK, a Jewish campaign group to protect the right to circumcision, the procedure is only carried out by highly-trained and regulated practitioners, known as mohelim. Boys are usually circumcised at eight days old.

A spokesperson for Milah UK said: “Jewish male neonatal circumcision – known as brit milah – is a non-negotiable element of Jewish identity, common to Jews from all backgrounds and respected in liberal democratic countries. For a country such as Iceland, that considers itself a liberal democracy to ban it, thus making sustainable Jewish life in the country impossible, is extremely concerning.”

Parallels with FGM were unwarranted, Milah UK said. The partial or complete removal of female genitalia could make intercourse difficult and painful and cause serious medical complications. In contrast, circumcision was a minor procedure.

“There is no recognised long-term negative impact on the child for the rest of his life. Millions of men – Jews as well as others – are circumcised around the world, and are unaffected in their everyday lives by having undergone the procedure. Carrying out brit milah on newborn boys is a central requirement of Jewish law,” the spokesperson said.

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, called for respect for the values of openness and tolerance, and added there was no evidence that circumcision was harmful.

“We can only assume that this attempt to ban a core practice of Jewish communities comes from ignorance about the practice and its effect on Jewish children, rather than to send a message that Jews are no longer welcome in Iceland,” he said.

Ahmad Seddeeq, the imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland, said the bill contravened religious freedom. “Circumcision has been practised for centuries, it is deeply rooted in cultural and religious traditions,” he said.

A meeting of religious organisations in Iceland was called earlier this month to discuss the bill, and they hoped to issue a declaration of opposition, he added.

Muslims in Iceland were already travelling to neighbouring countries to have the procedure performed on babies because of the reluctance of local doctors. But, Seddeeq said, “the [medical] benefits of this practice far exceed the risks”.

Jewish and Muslim communities warn that if circumcision is outlawed, the practice will go underground or religious minorities will travel or relocate to countries where it is permitted.

In Germany, a 2012 law permits only trained practitioners to perform circumcisions. It followed a controversial German court ruling which said circumcision “permanently and irreparably changed” a child’s body, and took away the individual’s right to “make his own decision on his religious affiliation”.

The following year, the Council of Europe passed a resolution calling on 47 member states to regulate practices concerning ritual circumcision, “to overcome some of the prevailing traditional methods, which do not take into consideration the best interest of the child and the latest state of medical art”. Israel said the resolution fostered “hate and racist trends in Europe”.

Two years ago, a judge sitting in a British family court said that young children should not be circumcised until they are old enough to decide for themselves. NHS advice is that “the risks associated with circumcisions when carried out by qualified and experienced doctors are small”.

The Icelandic bill comes against a backdrop of a number of European countries prohibiting Islamic religious dress, such as the niqab or burka. This spring the Danish parliament will debate a bill banning full-face veils in public.

Last year Belgium voted to ban halal and kosher meat, citing animal rights. Poland’s government has proposed a law prohibiting kosher slaughter, in a move vehemently opposed by the Jewish community.

The Icelandic bill on circumcision has cross-party backing and wide public support, Gunnarsdóttir said. If it passes its first reading, the bill will go into committee stage for several months before it can become law.

Iceland law to outlaw male circumcision sparks row over religious freedom

Jewish and Muslim leaders condemn first European country to propose ban

A boy reacts as paramedics perform a circumcision on him


A boy reacts as paramedics perform a circumcision on him in Ankara, Turkey, in 2017. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Iceland is poised to become the first European country to outlaw male circumcision amid signs that the ritual common to both Judaism and Islam may be a new battleground over religious freedom.

A bill currently before the Icelandic parliament proposes a penalty of up to six years in prison for anyone carrying out a circumcision other than for medical reasons. Critics say the move, which has sparked alarm among religious leaders across Europe, would make life for Jews and Muslims in Iceland unsustainable.

One in three men globally is thought to be circumcised, the vast majority for religious or cultural reasons. Many Jews and Muslims fear the issue of circumcision could become a proxy for antisemitism and Islamophobia, pointing to similar tensions over religious dress and the ritual slaughter of animals for meat.

Muslim and Jewish leaders attacked the proposal, while Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the Catholic Church in the European Union, said the bill was a “dangerous attack” on religious freedom. “The criminalisation of circumcision is a very grave measure that raises deep concern.”

The Icelandic bill says the circumcision of young boys violates their rights and is incompatible with the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. It draws a parallel with female genital mutilation, already outlawed in most European countries.

The bill says circumcisions are performed without anaesthesia, and claims the procedure is often carried out “in homes that are not sterile, and not by doctors but by religious leaders. There is a high risk of infections under such conditions that may lead to death.”

It acknowledges that while parents have the right to give religious guidance to their children, “such a right can never exceed the rights of the child”. Boys who wish to be circumcised for religious or cultural reasons can do so when they reach an age at which they “understand what is involved in such an action”, it suggests.

Iceland’s population of about 336,000 includes tiny Jewish and Muslim communities. There are thought to be some 250 Jews and about 1,500 Muslims.

Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir of the centre-right Progressive party said she had proposed the bill after realising that there was no ban on male circumcision although FGM has been outlawed in Iceland since 2005. “If we have laws banning circumcision for girls, then we should do so for boys,” she said.

“We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief. Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to belief.”

Nordic countries had well-deserved reputations for promoting human rights, she added. “If Iceland backs this, I think other countries will follow.”

The issue of circumcision has been raised in other European countries but none has outlawed it.

According to Milah UK, a Jewish campaign group to protect the right to circumcision, the procedure is only carried out by highly-trained and regulated practitioners, known as mohelim. Boys are usually circumcised at eight days old.

A spokesperson for Milah UK said: “Jewish male neonatal circumcision – known as brit milah – is a non-negotiable element of Jewish identity, common to Jews from all backgrounds and respected in liberal democratic countries. For a country such as Iceland, that considers itself a liberal democracy to ban it, thus making sustainable Jewish life in the country impossible, is extremely concerning.”

Parallels with FGM were unwarranted, Milah UK said. The partial or complete removal of female genitalia could make intercourse difficult and painful and cause serious medical complications. In contrast, circumcision was a minor procedure.

“There is no recognised long-term negative impact on the child for the rest of his life. Millions of men – Jews as well as others – are circumcised around the world, and are unaffected in their everyday lives by having undergone the procedure. Carrying out brit milah on newborn boys is a central requirement of Jewish law,” the spokesperson said.

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, called for respect for the values of openness and tolerance, and added there was no evidence that circumcision was harmful.

“We can only assume that this attempt to ban a core practice of Jewish communities comes from ignorance about the practice and its effect on Jewish children, rather than to send a message that Jews are no longer welcome in Iceland,” he said.

Ahmad Seddeeq, the imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland, said the bill contravened religious freedom. “Circumcision has been practised for centuries, it is deeply rooted in cultural and religious traditions,” he said.

A meeting of religious organisations in Iceland was called earlier this month to discuss the bill, and they hoped to issue a declaration of opposition, he added.

Muslims in Iceland were already travelling to neighbouring countries to have the procedure performed on babies because of the reluctance of local doctors. But, Seddeeq said, “the [medical] benefits of this practice far exceed the risks”.

Jewish and Muslim communities warn that if circumcision is outlawed, the practice will go underground or religious minorities will travel or relocate to countries where it is permitted.

In Germany, a 2012 law permits only trained practitioners to perform circumcisions. It followed a controversial German court ruling which said circumcision “permanently and irreparably changed” a child’s body, and took away the individual’s right to “make his own decision on his religious affiliation”.

The following year, the Council of Europe passed a resolution calling on 47 member states to regulate practices concerning ritual circumcision, “to overcome some of the prevailing traditional methods, which do not take into consideration the best interest of the child and the latest state of medical art”. Israel said the resolution fostered “hate and racist trends in Europe”.

Two years ago, a judge sitting in a British family court said that young children should not be circumcised until they are old enough to decide for themselves. NHS advice is that “the risks associated with circumcisions when carried out by qualified and experienced doctors are small”.

The Icelandic bill comes against a backdrop of a number of European countries prohibiting Islamic religious dress, such as the niqab or burka. This spring the Danish parliament will debate a bill banning full-face veils in public.

Last year Belgium voted to ban halal and kosher meat, citing animal rights. Poland’s government has proposed a law prohibiting kosher slaughter, in a move vehemently opposed by the Jewish community.

The Icelandic bill on circumcision has cross-party backing and wide public support, Gunnarsdóttir said. If it passes its first reading, the bill will go into committee stage for several months before it can become law.

Iceland law to outlaw male circumcision sparks row over religious freedom

Jewish and Muslim leaders condemn first European country to propose ban

A boy reacts as paramedics perform a circumcision on him


A boy reacts as paramedics perform a circumcision on him in Ankara, Turkey, in 2017. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Iceland is poised to become the first European country to outlaw male circumcision amid signs that the ritual common to both Judaism and Islam may be a new battleground over religious freedom.

A bill currently before the Icelandic parliament proposes a penalty of up to six years in prison for anyone carrying out a circumcision other than for medical reasons. Critics say the move, which has sparked alarm among religious leaders across Europe, would make life for Jews and Muslims in Iceland unsustainable.

One in three men globally is thought to be circumcised, the vast majority for religious or cultural reasons. Many Jews and Muslims fear the issue of circumcision could become a proxy for antisemitism and Islamophobia, pointing to similar tensions over religious dress and the ritual slaughter of animals for meat.

Muslim and Jewish leaders attacked the proposal, while Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the Catholic Church in the European Union, said the bill was a “dangerous attack” on religious freedom. “The criminalisation of circumcision is a very grave measure that raises deep concern.”

The Icelandic bill says the circumcision of young boys violates their rights and is incompatible with the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. It draws a parallel with female genital mutilation, already outlawed in most European countries.

The bill says circumcisions are performed without anaesthesia, and claims the procedure is often carried out “in homes that are not sterile, and not by doctors but by religious leaders. There is a high risk of infections under such conditions that may lead to death.”

It acknowledges that while parents have the right to give religious guidance to their children, “such a right can never exceed the rights of the child”. Boys who wish to be circumcised for religious or cultural reasons can do so when they reach an age at which they “understand what is involved in such an action”, it suggests.

Iceland’s population of about 336,000 includes tiny Jewish and Muslim communities. There are thought to be some 250 Jews and about 1,500 Muslims.

Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir of the centre-right Progressive party said she had proposed the bill after realising that there was no ban on male circumcision although FGM has been outlawed in Iceland since 2005. “If we have laws banning circumcision for girls, then we should do so for boys,” she said.

“We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief. Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to belief.”

Nordic countries had well-deserved reputations for promoting human rights, she added. “If Iceland backs this, I think other countries will follow.”

The issue of circumcision has been raised in other European countries but none has outlawed it.

According to Milah UK, a Jewish campaign group to protect the right to circumcision, the procedure is only carried out by highly-trained and regulated practitioners, known as mohelim. Boys are usually circumcised at eight days old.

A spokesperson for Milah UK said: “Jewish male neonatal circumcision – known as brit milah – is a non-negotiable element of Jewish identity, common to Jews from all backgrounds and respected in liberal democratic countries. For a country such as Iceland, that considers itself a liberal democracy to ban it, thus making sustainable Jewish life in the country impossible, is extremely concerning.”

Parallels with FGM were unwarranted, Milah UK said. The partial or complete removal of female genitalia could make intercourse difficult and painful and cause serious medical complications. In contrast, circumcision was a minor procedure.

“There is no recognised long-term negative impact on the child for the rest of his life. Millions of men – Jews as well as others – are circumcised around the world, and are unaffected in their everyday lives by having undergone the procedure. Carrying out brit milah on newborn boys is a central requirement of Jewish law,” the spokesperson said.

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, called for respect for the values of openness and tolerance, and added there was no evidence that circumcision was harmful.

“We can only assume that this attempt to ban a core practice of Jewish communities comes from ignorance about the practice and its effect on Jewish children, rather than to send a message that Jews are no longer welcome in Iceland,” he said.

Ahmad Seddeeq, the imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland, said the bill contravened religious freedom. “Circumcision has been practised for centuries, it is deeply rooted in cultural and religious traditions,” he said.

A meeting of religious organisations in Iceland was called earlier this month to discuss the bill, and they hoped to issue a declaration of opposition, he added.

Muslims in Iceland were already travelling to neighbouring countries to have the procedure performed on babies because of the reluctance of local doctors. But, Seddeeq said, “the [medical] benefits of this practice far exceed the risks”.

Jewish and Muslim communities warn that if circumcision is outlawed, the practice will go underground or religious minorities will travel or relocate to countries where it is permitted.

In Germany, a 2012 law permits only trained practitioners to perform circumcisions. It followed a controversial German court ruling which said circumcision “permanently and irreparably changed” a child’s body, and took away the individual’s right to “make his own decision on his religious affiliation”.

The following year, the Council of Europe passed a resolution calling on 47 member states to regulate practices concerning ritual circumcision, “to overcome some of the prevailing traditional methods, which do not take into consideration the best interest of the child and the latest state of medical art”. Israel said the resolution fostered “hate and racist trends in Europe”.

Two years ago, a judge sitting in a British family court said that young children should not be circumcised until they are old enough to decide for themselves. NHS advice is that “the risks associated with circumcisions when carried out by qualified and experienced doctors are small”.

The Icelandic bill comes against a backdrop of a number of European countries prohibiting Islamic religious dress, such as the niqab or burka. This spring the Danish parliament will debate a bill banning full-face veils in public.

Last year Belgium voted to ban halal and kosher meat, citing animal rights. Poland’s government has proposed a law prohibiting kosher slaughter, in a move vehemently opposed by the Jewish community.

The Icelandic bill on circumcision has cross-party backing and wide public support, Gunnarsdóttir said. If it passes its first reading, the bill will go into committee stage for several months before it can become law.

Iceland law to outlaw male circumcision sparks row over religious freedom

Jewish and Muslim leaders condemn first European country to propose ban

A boy reacts as paramedics perform a circumcision on him


A boy reacts as paramedics perform a circumcision on him in Ankara, Turkey, in 2017. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Iceland is poised to become the first European country to outlaw male circumcision amid signs that the ritual common to both Judaism and Islam may be a new battleground over religious freedom.

A bill currently before the Icelandic parliament proposes a penalty of up to six years in prison for anyone carrying out a circumcision other than for medical reasons. Critics say the move, which has sparked alarm among religious leaders across Europe, would make life for Jews and Muslims in Iceland unsustainable.

One in three men globally is thought to be circumcised, the vast majority for religious or cultural reasons. Many Jews and Muslims fear the issue of circumcision could become a proxy for antisemitism and Islamophobia, pointing to similar tensions over religious dress and the ritual slaughter of animals for meat.

Muslim and Jewish leaders attacked the proposal, while Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the Catholic Church in the European Union, said the bill was a “dangerous attack” on religious freedom. “The criminalisation of circumcision is a very grave measure that raises deep concern.”

The Icelandic bill says the circumcision of young boys violates their rights and is incompatible with the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. It draws a parallel with female genital mutilation, already outlawed in most European countries.

The bill says circumcisions are performed without anaesthesia, and claims the procedure is often carried out “in homes that are not sterile, and not by doctors but by religious leaders. There is a high risk of infections under such conditions that may lead to death.”

It acknowledges that while parents have the right to give religious guidance to their children, “such a right can never exceed the rights of the child”. Boys who wish to be circumcised for religious or cultural reasons can do so when they reach an age at which they “understand what is involved in such an action”, it suggests.

Iceland’s population of about 336,000 includes tiny Jewish and Muslim communities. There are thought to be some 250 Jews and about 1,500 Muslims.

Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir of the centre-right Progressive party said she had proposed the bill after realising that there was no ban on male circumcision although FGM has been outlawed in Iceland since 2005. “If we have laws banning circumcision for girls, then we should do so for boys,” she said.

“We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief. Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to belief.”

Nordic countries had well-deserved reputations for promoting human rights, she added. “If Iceland backs this, I think other countries will follow.”

The issue of circumcision has been raised in other European countries but none has outlawed it.

According to Milah UK, a Jewish campaign group to protect the right to circumcision, the procedure is only carried out by highly-trained and regulated practitioners, known as mohelim. Boys are usually circumcised at eight days old.

A spokesperson for Milah UK said: “Jewish male neonatal circumcision – known as brit milah – is a non-negotiable element of Jewish identity, common to Jews from all backgrounds and respected in liberal democratic countries. For a country such as Iceland, that considers itself a liberal democracy to ban it, thus making sustainable Jewish life in the country impossible, is extremely concerning.”

Parallels with FGM were unwarranted, Milah UK said. The partial or complete removal of female genitalia could make intercourse difficult and painful and cause serious medical complications. In contrast, circumcision was a minor procedure.

“There is no recognised long-term negative impact on the child for the rest of his life. Millions of men – Jews as well as others – are circumcised around the world, and are unaffected in their everyday lives by having undergone the procedure. Carrying out brit milah on newborn boys is a central requirement of Jewish law,” the spokesperson said.

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, called for respect for the values of openness and tolerance, and added there was no evidence that circumcision was harmful.

“We can only assume that this attempt to ban a core practice of Jewish communities comes from ignorance about the practice and its effect on Jewish children, rather than to send a message that Jews are no longer welcome in Iceland,” he said.

Ahmad Seddeeq, the imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland, said the bill contravened religious freedom. “Circumcision has been practised for centuries, it is deeply rooted in cultural and religious traditions,” he said.

A meeting of religious organisations in Iceland was called earlier this month to discuss the bill, and they hoped to issue a declaration of opposition, he added.

Muslims in Iceland were already travelling to neighbouring countries to have the procedure performed on babies because of the reluctance of local doctors. But, Seddeeq said, “the [medical] benefits of this practice far exceed the risks”.

Jewish and Muslim communities warn that if circumcision is outlawed, the practice will go underground or religious minorities will travel or relocate to countries where it is permitted.

In Germany, a 2012 law permits only trained practitioners to perform circumcisions. It followed a controversial German court ruling which said circumcision “permanently and irreparably changed” a child’s body, and took away the individual’s right to “make his own decision on his religious affiliation”.

The following year, the Council of Europe passed a resolution calling on 47 member states to regulate practices concerning ritual circumcision, “to overcome some of the prevailing traditional methods, which do not take into consideration the best interest of the child and the latest state of medical art”. Israel said the resolution fostered “hate and racist trends in Europe”.

Two years ago, a judge sitting in a British family court said that young children should not be circumcised until they are old enough to decide for themselves. NHS advice is that “the risks associated with circumcisions when carried out by qualified and experienced doctors are small”.

The Icelandic bill comes against a backdrop of a number of European countries prohibiting Islamic religious dress, such as the niqab or burka. This spring the Danish parliament will debate a bill banning full-face veils in public.

Last year Belgium voted to ban halal and kosher meat, citing animal rights. Poland’s government has proposed a law prohibiting kosher slaughter, in a move vehemently opposed by the Jewish community.

The Icelandic bill on circumcision has cross-party backing and wide public support, Gunnarsdóttir said. If it passes its first reading, the bill will go into committee stage for several months before it can become law.

Guilt over household chores is ‘harming working women’s health’

Worries over whether women are doing their ‘fair share’ has a clear impact on their health, according to a new analysis

  • In Weekend magazine: ‘the houswork gap’ – special report

Women in the UK now spend an average of 2hr 12min per day doing household chores; men average 1hr 9min.


Women in the UK now spend an average of 2hr 12min per day doing household chores; men average 1hr 9min. Photograph: Tatomm/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Guilt about not doing enough housework may be harming working women’s health, according to new analysis of data from the International Social Survey Programme.

Over a two-year period, women in 24 countries were asked to rate the amount of household chores they do each day in terms of their perceived “fair share”. They also ranked their physical health levels.

“Women who are not working a lot in the house are actually having poorer health than women who are working more household hours,” said Candice Thomas, the new paper’s co-author and an assistant professor of psychology at Saint Louis University. “How much you work at home is impacting health in a way we didn’t expect.”

According to the analysis, published in the academic journal Sex Roles: “Although the worst health was reported among women with higher work and household hours … the relationship between job work hours and physical health is stronger when women are not contributing to the household workload as intensively.”

The authors suggest this link might be down to women feeling “guilt and empathy toward their spouses, as well as a transfer of stress from their spouses”.

According to Thomas, the research shows it is “how women feel about the distribution [of housework] that really matters. And I think guilt is something that probably plays a role in it – that you’re not doing your fair share.”

Quick guide

Housework inequality

Who does what: housework around the world

The global “housework gap” has narrowed since the 1960s, when women did at least 85% almost everywhere in the world. Men in the UK, for example, now devote 24 minutes more a day to housework than they did half a century ago, while those in the US do an extra 20.

But women still do the bulk of the chores, according to recent analysis by Oxford University’s Centre for Time Use Research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. In the UK, they spend an average of 132 minutes a day on housework (62 of them cooking) versus men’s 69 (31 cooking). In the US it’s 112 minutes compared with 58.

In the least fair country surveyed, South Korea, women still do 87% of the housework – two hours and 27 minutes a day – while men do just 21 minutes. Even in the Nordic states, known for family-friendly policies, women continue to do around 60% of the housework.

As for Italy, it remains slow to change, with women still spending three hours 30 minutes on chores each day, compared with men’s 37 minutes. Much of that is taken up by cleaning and laundry, although this is down to 110 minutes, from 132 minutes in 1980.

Naomi Larsson

The CTUR research looks at nationally representative samples of men and women of all sexualities, aged between 20 and 59.

In the UK, averaging across all seven days of the week, women and men now spend a near-identical amount of time working when household chores are included (women: 7hr 10min per day; men: five minutes more). But men are paid for almost 25% more of their work (5hr 14min of their daily average, compared to 3hr 26min for women). And men are also paid better, both in the UK and across the world.

This data comes from a new working paper by by Oxford University’s Centre for Time Use Research (CTUR): a gender analysis of 75 national time-use surveys for people aged 20–59 from 24 countries over the last 58 years.


Am I the powerful person running a business, or am I the person incapable of keeping my house clean?

Holly Marriott

The study shows that women in the UK now spend an average of 2hr 12min per day doing household chores, compared to men’s contribution of 1hr 9min.

“The convergence [between men and women’s work time] is only partial, but change is happening,” said Prof Jonathan Gershuny, head of the CTUR. “The public policy issue is how far the state is going to go to make sure this collective effort on the part of women does not lead to the punishment of women in terms of power and influence.”

The unequal distribution of unpaid work between men and women is one of the most important gender equality issues in many countries, according to a 2017 OECD report which cites its impact on pay gaps and career progression.

A recent analysis by the Financial Times found women accounted for just a quarter of senior staff at 50 of the world’s biggest banks, insurers and asset managers – a proportion that has improved only slightly since 2014.

The unequal distribution of labour has also been found to have a wider economic impact, with one recent study suggesting the US economy would improve significantly if men took on more of the housework.

Across the 24 countries included in the CTUR analysis, women are still typically taking on around 65% of the housework load, down from 85% in the 1960s – despite having increased their average paid working hours by as much as 47% (UK), 115% (Denmark) and 215% (Holland) over broadly the same period.

Traditional roles and ingrained ideas

While more women are in paid work than ever before, for many people the traditional, archaic ideas of what a man and women “should” do in the household linger on.

“This guilt is linked to some expectations of what women are ‘supposed’ to do, even if they don’t agree with it,” said Melissa Milkie, a sociologist specialising in gender at the University of Toronto. “Although women and men’s roles are much more similar than they used to be, the expectations lag to some degree – we’re still stuck culturally. This may be true for men too, in that they still have to be breadwinners.”

Gender-based expectations are often stuck in the past.


Gender-based expectations are often stuck in the past. Illustration: Heritage Images/Getty

At 31, Holly Marriott is the founder and CEO of her own company, but still finds herself constantly grappling with a question of her identity: “Am I the powerful person running a business, or am I the person incapable of keeping my house clean?”

Marriott lives with her partner in Norfolk, and because of work commitments feels she isn’t able to take on her share of the household work. “It’s classic house pride: ‘I’m a woman – I should be able to keep a house clean.’ But I don’t have time to do that.”

The feeling of guilt is something Marriott can’t seem to shake off – even though she is the higher earner in the household. “I feel like I should be able to do more, even though I work long hours. I think it’s related to traditional roles: even though my role has changed and I’m working flat-out, I feel that I need to keep things tidy. It’s the whole thing of taking an equal amount of weight. I don’t because I haven’t got time to – and that bothers me.”

According to Gershuny, society’s ingrained ideas are the very things that maintain inequality in the workplace. “It’s this notion of fairness within the household that generates the societal level of unfairness manifested by the wage gap. For example, if you are doing more of the childcare, that means you shouldn’t be working at your job as well,” he said.

“Women are still doing the double shift of a job and most of the housework, plus caring responsibilities – and it leaves a lot of women knackered,” said Frances O’Grady, the first female general secretary of the UK’s Trades Union Congress.

“This means women have less leisure time than men, and fewer opportunities to network. For example, it’s harder for women to hang on after work to build contacts if they want to go for promotion – all of these things that we know make a difference are much tougher for women.”

In Weekend magazine tomorrow: ‘The housework gap’ – a special report

Not remotely refreshing: global health fund rebuked over Heineken alliance

Campaigners condemn decision of chief fundraiser for HIV, TB and malaria to enter partnership with Heineken

Heineken beer bottles


Health organisations say there is a ‘conflict of interest’ in the union between the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Heineken. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex/Shutterstock

A global health fund has come under severe criticism over its decision to partner with Heineken, a move campaigners warn will “undermine and subvert” alcohol policy implementation in Africa.

In an open letter to the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an alliance of more than 2,000 health organisations voiced misgivings about the alliance and called for its immediate end.

“We are deeply concerned about this partnership and its implications for global health,” read a letter signed by Katie Dain of the NCD Alliance, Kristina Sperkova of the anti-alcohol group IOGT International, and Sally Casswell of the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance.

“A partnership such as this with the Global Fund is of great value to Heineken. It redirects attention from the costs of harmful use of alcohol and positions Heineken to governments, the public and the global community as a legitimate partner in implementing sustainable development solutions.”

Heineken, the world’s second-biggest brewer, is expected to help the Global Fund with the logistics of reaching healthcare facilities and patients in remote areas, and to “further advance a common goal” of fighting disease in Africa, according to a statement released last week.

The Global Fund, an alliance of governments, civil society and the private sector that invests $ 4bn a year to fight infectious diseases, also recently announced partnerships with consumer goods group Unilever and Swiss bank Lombard Odier.

“The Global Fund is a strong believer in the power of public-private partnerships in order to accelerate progress,” said Peter Sands, incoming executive director of the Global Fund.

“We are particularly excited to leverage the expertise of Heineken as we develop innovative tools and approaches that will promote HIV prevention and behaviour change. We also look forward to sharpening our logistics planning skills to better support our implementing partners’ efforts to deliver health services and commodities wherever they are needed. These two efforts are vital to improving health and wellbeing in Africa.”

In a statement, Heineken CEO Jean-François van Boxmeer said: “Heineken has been present in Africa for over 100 years, and saw first-hand the severity of the Aids epidemic on communities. We provided employees with voluntary testing for HIV and treatment for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, among others, from the start.

“We continue to do this today and recognise there is still a lot to do. Evolving our partnership with the Global Fund will allow us to work together in order to end these epidemics in Africa.”

Health experts and campaigners have largely decried the announcement, pointing to evidence that harmful use of alcohol increases the risk factor of both HIV and tuberculosis.

“The very nature of a partnership with the alcohol industry is very alarming,” said Dain.

“We shouldn’t see this as some kind of legitimate partner in sustainable development or global health. It’s a double standard for an institution focusing on HIV, TB and malaria to be building partnerships with companies and industries that contribute to the burden of these diseases, particularly in Africa.”

The NCD Alliance chief, whose network consists of a group of 2,000 organisations fighting non-communicable diseases, also warned that the scope to increase alcohol consumption in Africa is likely to be attractive to companies like Heineken. Dain said firms may use public-private partnerships such as the Global Fund-Heineken alliance to “play, shape and develop the alcohol policies of national governments [in Africa]”.

A number of global health experts used social media to voice their concerns.

“As regulations get tough and shares dwindle, the food, beverage and tobacco industries are targeting [low middle-income countries] with their processed food, sweet soft drinks, tobacco and alcohol,” tweeted Dr Senait Fisseha, a key adviser to the World Health Organisation. “It’s scandalous to create market entry under the auspices of aid and development.”

Anthony Costello, the WHO director for maternal, child and adolescent health, tweeted: “The privatisation of public health. Not only private Swiss banks. The Global Fund is in alliance with a huge alcohol company.”