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The foreskin debate – circumcision

Moses Wachira and his wife Lydia opted to circumcise their children when they were still young to break away from the tradition, where the procedure is done as a rite of passage

Circumcision in Kenya is typically done for religious, cultural, medical or personal reasons. Usually, many parents circumcise their children in their preteen and early teenage years.

But these rates are falling, an emerging number of parents, especially in cosmopolitan areas such as Nairobi and Nyanza where circumcision is not a part of culture are opting to break with tradition and are now circumcising their children at birth.

Moses Wachira and his wife Lydia circumcised their firstborn son when he was eight years old and their second son at two-months old. “It was my husband’s idea, and I was anxious about it, especially for my two month old boy.

His little body was so fragile, and his penis so tiny. But later on, I was glad that we did it at that time. Besides, the procedure wasn’t complicated. The device was minimally invasive and caring for it was as simple as caring for a navel.

In fact, circumcising a newborn baby is convenient and heals faster than when it is done later in life,” says Lydia. Wachira says his decision to have his sons circumcised early was to get out of tradition and purely do it for medical reasons.

“We also wanted to do away with the ‘coming of age’ perception associated with circumcision. I believe that when boys are told that they are now men after the cut, it gives them a sense of rebellion,” says Wachira.

Transition

But for most ethnic communities, circumcision is an examination one must pass to become an adult. That means that it has to be done at adolescence or there about when the child understands the meaning of what they are about to undergo.

“Getting it over early in life sounds like a good thing to do, but we have attached a bigger meaning to circumcision rather than just cutting off the foreskin,” says Mark Masinde, a father of four boys.

“We see it as a transition from childhood to adulthood. It also signifies a child’s acceptance in the community,” says Masinde. A Bukusu from western Kenya, Masinde says in his community just like many others, which practise circumcision, the initiation takes place anywhere from age 10 to 14 years.

It is an opportunity for elders to drum into the minds of children entering their teens that they are now transitioning from childhood to another age group, which means more responsibilities, assuming leadership and in some communities, readiness to get married.

After circumcision the boys are taught the tribal history and traditions and in some communities such as the Maasai a newly-circumcised boy would kill a lion as a sign he is now a warrior.

According to Masinde, this would not happen if a child is circumcised at birth. There would be no other opportunity for parents to teach their children about important traditions if a child is circumcised at birth.

No right or wrong age

Joab Kitili, a medical practitioner and male circumciser in Nairobi, says that there is no right or wrong age for circumcision. A man can undergo the cut at any point in their life, young or old.

Kitili argues that in the first few days after birth, infants tend to bleed less and fuss less during a circumcision session. Soon after birth the blood vessels in and around the penis increase in size and the foreskin changes and starts to grow over the head of the penis.

“The longer you wait, the higher the risk your child will require to be stitched to stop the bleeding,” he says. Another upside according to Kitili is that your baby will probably have no memory of the pain.

“The central nervous system is so immature prior to two weeks that infants basically have no memory,” he offers. Ideally, for parents who wish to circumcise their newborn babies, the procedure is recommended while the baby is still in the hospital, using local anaesthetic, by an obstetrician or pediatrician.

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