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Genital Autonomy, Children’s Rights, and Competing Rights Claims in International Human Rights Law *

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Claims that genital autonomy should be considered a human right call into question medically unnecessary genital alterations, including genital cutting of both boy and girl children, the forced or coerced circumcision of adults, and surgical alterations performed on the genitals of intersex children prior to the age of consent. To date, global norms suggest only a narrow applicability of any right to genital autonomy. International organizations, states, and non-governmental organizations increasingly condemn genital cutting of girls and women but generally tolerate both the genital cutting of boys and men and the surgical alteration of the genitals of intersex children. In examining assertions that genital autonomy should be considered a human right, the article considers competing rights claims, including religious and cultural rights, parental rights, and contending perspectives on health rights. Ultimately, this article highlights the limitations of international human rights law as a tool for promoting a right to genital autonomy.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Politics and International Relations, Drake University, Des Moines, IA, USA,


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