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When Male Circumcision Acts as State of Manhood and Becomes a Conduit of Death

Updated on July 13, 2014
Traditional male circumcision
Traditional male circumcision | Source

For many years, circumcision has been a worldwide issue concerning religions, practices and societies. For the developed and developing country, the benefits of circumcision and safety practices towards it provide a major relief for both parents and sons; causes lower to diminished mortality rate cause by circumcision. It's at man's discretion to undergo such process.

There are certain parts of the world when circumcision is mostly governed by their culture and the society they lived with; and when circumcision is only the basis and state of their manhood.


Ulwaluko Revealed

The Guardian posted a news regarding a Dutch doctor in South Africa, Dr Dingeman Rijken, who obtained anger and abhorrence from South African traditional leaders, due to a website published that unveil the dark secrets of circumcision done in adolescent boys from the Xhosa group (a community group in South Africa).

The website created by Rijken, (ulwaluko means initiation to manhood in Xhosa language), reveals: male genital mutilation, torture and abuse, and the increasing death among young boys who undergone ulwaluko. The website numbers the cumulative death to 878 since 1995 in the Eastern Cape due to complications. It also highlights graphic pictures (various pictures of injured penises) of disfigured, infected, deformed, gangrenous, and amputated penises that severely earned enormous criticism from community leaders and accused the doctor of meddling with their culture.

The "Initiates"
The "Initiates" | Source

Ulwaluko, introduced by the website, is a traditional circumcision practice and ancient initiation rituals performed by a traditional surgeon to "initiates" or young boys undertaking the rituals. During rituals, the traditional surgeon shouted, "You are a man" after the traditional manner of circumcision. The initiates will reply "I am a man", and the foreskin will be attached to the boy's blanket.

Initiation rite
Initiation rite | Source
Initiation School
Initiation School | Source

Underlying Problems

As stated, the underlying problems included:

•Lack of Competence

It contains: (1) incompetence in part of traditional attendants in performing safe circumcision; (2) lack of supervision from relatives, community members, and traditional leaders; (3) and lack of regulation from stakeholders.

•The Belief in Secrecy and Sacredness

Revealing the details of the rituals, the agonizing pain and the discussion of problems that occurred —even to the girls or to the non-initiate—are prohibited.

•Inaccessible of Initiation School

Most of the traditional schools are located in a secluded area. Some are very distant and isolated making it very difficult and inaccessible for monitoring purposes.

•Poor Construction of Initiation School

The school is usually made of large plastic sheets; cramped and poorly ventilated structures; with fire continuously lit. These contribute to increased temperature inside which promotes surge of dehydration and is severed by fluid restriction practice.


Unhygienic Circumcision Practice

One traditional spear (without proper sterilization) is commonly used to all initiates that can lead to disease transmission like HIV and Hepatitis B (other reports reveal that they are using now one spear for every initiates). According to the website, though sometimes the foreskin and the spear are washed with antiseptic, the procedure is rarely practiced.

As said, the foreskin is "chopped" rather than excised. Other complications arise with excessive bleeding, ragged circumcision, excessive removal of skin or foreskin not removed entirely, and rare instances of the glans or urethra injuries—contributing to severe genital mutilation.

•Improper Wound Care

Poor aseptic practices include: gloves are not used before each dressing change; bandages are used to different initiates and are tightly applied that result to gradual blood flow and delayed wound healing; leaves or traditional herbs are rubbed first in the sole of the foot before application to the wound which introduces bacteria to the wound and inducts infection.

•Sleep Deprivation

During this stage, the initiates are used to believe they are endangered by witches so they put white clay and sing all night to keep the witches away.

•Pre-existing medical condition

"Western" medication is not allowed and someone who brought it was perceived as "weak"—which can aggravates the pre-existing medical conditions like diabetes, mental health issues, asthma, or epilepsy.


The website stated that death occurs (usually) within the first eight days after circumcision, and those complications are attributed to witchcrafts, and are perceived to be as a result of weakness and cowardice of initiates.

Revelation from Initiates

•Physical Abuse and Torture

Dr Dingeman Rijken stated on his website,

"Winter 2012. Groups of young boys with white faces were brought out of a secret dark world into glaring hospital lights. Sunken eyes from dehydration, flaky skin from malnourishment, bagged eyes from sleep deprivation. Frequently you would smell the rotting when they were walking past. I spend many hours cleaning their wounds, trying to insert urinary catheters in their botched penis, battling to explain 17-year-olds that they had lost their manhood."

"All initiates suffer from some form of abuse. They are commonly beaten on their heads, and the practice of ‘nose pulling’ sometimes leads to nasal lacerations. Even penile bandages are often tightened as a form of punishment. Severe beatings occur frequently. Some initiates are being burnt with objects, and I have seen one initiate who’s penile bandage had been yanked off repeatedly."

Other problems comprise: moral demise; cultural prejudice; financial burden; 10% of initiates (usually with moderate to severe complication) looked for medical attention; and other common misconceptions.


Being a new writer in the field of journalism, it is always an endeavor to make an article based on facts and truths. Making a stand on what you believed based on what you read is very hard. The only thing I have learned from reading is to stay and be focused on facts and truth.


Look at the number of deaths. It reaches to 878 young boys (tortured and abused before they died as stated on the website). The community groups and leaders focused on harshly criticizing the website because it damages their believed culture. Even if the number of deaths was reduced to only one, it will never un-signify the human right violation done on young boys. Even these adolescent boys were under the jurisdiction of their parents, community group, their culture and government, these young boys are human entitled and capable to be given human rights. But this human right is violated by each of their self interest and pride.

Children are gifts
Children are gifts | Source

Why don’t the parents, community leaders, and government officials sit down for a while (and shut up their mouths temporarily) and investigate: Is the number of deaths and the revelation in the articles are true (?); then afterwards, the community groups, leaders and supporters can protest all they want for violation of their freedom (after the investigation)—because those boys who died cannot protest anymore!

Look at communities' principles—respect for self, for family, and for community. The agonizing pressure that peers, family, community and culture bring to the boys to undergo these rituals are already an abuse to their rights. These adolescents are also entitled to be respected.

Look at the government officials' oath—uphold the human rights. You can only uphold human rights by focusing on the truths and facts or else you will only be carried away by the whims and tantrums of people's selfishness. Now, look at the numbers of deaths—878 young boys. They are all dead.

To The Community Group

Solutions are nearly on your hands, you just have to take it and open your eyes. Your rituals and practices will never be taken away from you but you also have to respect the health and lives of young boys. You may be adults and powerful through your communities but you have no single right to risk the life of boys you have not created. Weigh what is important--culture or life?


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