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Loopholes feared in new German laws against forced intersex surgery

Germany has passed new legislation banning unnecessary surgery on intersex children, but advocates have warned that the law may be insufficient.

Intersex babies and children are still frequently subjected to needless surgery that may cause medical complications and psychological harm.

Activists around the world have called for an end to such ‘normalising’ procedures on children who are born intersex, usually with genitals that do not confirm entirely to binary expectations of male or female.

Surgeries performed on intersex babies often include removing genitals and gonads.

The Darlington Statement identifies priorities for the intersex community, including bodily autonomy and recognition of diversity.

German lawmakers voted on Thursday to ban unnecessary cosmetic surgeries on intersex children, Brinkwire has reported.

Advocates have welcomed the decision, but fears have been raised that the new law may be insufficient to effectively prevent such surgeries.

“We’re very happy that there is finally a law about this, but the ban has loopholes and leaves many questions unanswered,” said Charlotte Wunn, head of intersex rights group Intergeschlechtliche Menschen.

The law fails to stipulate penalties for performing unnecessary procedures, and doctors or parents could potentially go ahead with surgeries by not formally diagnosing an intersex variation.

“The room for interpretation is enormous and the ban is very easy to circumvent,” said Free Democratic Party lawmaker Jens Brandenburg.

The proportion of people born intersex is often thought to be at least 1.7% ­– making it around as common as red hair – but many people may have an intersex variation of hormones, anatomy, or chromosomes that is never discovered.

Germany joins Portugal and Malta in banning non-consensual, unnecessary surgeries on intersex children.

In Australia, the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute has called for laws criminalising non-consensual surgery, other than cases of lifesaving treatment, and making it easier for intersex people to obtain compensation for harms resulting from such surgery.

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