DUSHANBE -- In Tajikistan, where the government often tries to micromanage people’s daily lives, authorities are now even trying to regulate the circumcision of newborn boys.
Family doctors from state-run clinics have been going door-to-door in the capital, Dushanbe, in recent days to make a list of uncircumcised baby boys, several parents have complained.
The doctors then tell the parents to bring their young boys to clinics to have them circumcised as soon as possible, the families claimed.
A mother of two, Jamila, who didn’t want to give her full name, told RFE/RL that she was surprised when a family doctor paid an unexpected visit to her home in Dushanbe and asked if her toddler son was circumcised.
“The doctor told me that the medics have been instructed by [authorities] to register all uncircumcised boys,” Jamila said on February 24.
The doctors say the instruction came from the Health Ministry to enforce a law regulating Tajiks’ observance of national traditions.
It seems that doctors just want to be able to report to authorities that they have successfully fulfilled a government plan by circumcising X number of children. It totally disregards families’ wishes.”-- Dushanbe resident Surayo Nurkhonova
Doctor Mehrubon Teshaeva, who works for a state-owned clinic in Dushanbe, confirmed taking part in the unofficial door-to-door “campaign.”
“We register the children and give the list to the surgeon [who performs the circumcision]. This is our job as family doctors,” Teshaeva said on February 24. “The procedure, including all the necessary checkups and follow-ups, is offered free of charge for baby boys under the age of 1.”
In Tajikistan, a predominantly Muslim country, the circumcision of young boys is a long-standing tradition linked to religious beliefs.
Circumcision -- listed as part of the Abrahamic covenant in the Hebrew Bible -- is practiced by Muslims, Jews, and many Christians, though the Catholic Church is against it.
The procedure to surgically remove the foreskin of the penis takes a doctor five to 10 minutes to perform on an infant and about an hour on an adult.
In Muslim tradition, the procedure is often done before the child reaches the age of 5 and is sometimes followed by a family celebration.
Circumcision is more complicated and somewhat riskier when performed on older babies, children, or men.
In August 2017, Tajikistan amended the so-called regulation law, which now stipulates the circumcision of newborn males should be conducted “with parents’ consent within the first 20 days after birth.”
The law also orders that the procedure – which is not mandatory -- must be carried out by a trained doctor in a medical facility. As of January 1, Tajikistan fully banned people who are not doctors from performing circumcisions.
Doctors say the law is aimed at preventing potential complications, such as infections or too much bleeding.
The Health Ministry says 80,330 male infants underwent free circumcision operations by pediatric surgeons across the country in 2018.
The ministry says it opened nearly 600 special surgical rooms to perform circumcisions in clinics and hospitals since the amendments to the law were made public.
The latest drive urging families not to delay the circumcisions didn’t sit well with some parents, who see it as too much meddling in people’s lives.
“People should do it according to their wishes and circumstances,” says Safarbek Kabiri, a father of two from Dushanbe.
Doctor Teshaeva said some parents don’t want their newborns to undergo surgery during the first days of their lives.
“The parents tell us their children are too young and not yet ready for such an operation,” Teshaeva said. “We explain to them it’s better to have it done as early as possible, because when it’s performed on a grown-up child it could traumatize them.”
Restricting Personal Freedom
Dushanbe resident Surayo Nurkhonova says the campaign puts pressure on families, who she believes should have a choice in when -- or if -- to circumcise their baby boys.
“It violates people’s personal freedom,” Nurkhonova told RFE/RL. “It seems that doctors just want to be able to report to authorities that they have successfully fulfilled a government plan by circumcising X number of children. It totally disregards families’ wishes.”
The topic of circumcision hit the headlines initially in September 2018 when President Emomali Rahmon spoke about the health risks of performing circumcisions at home by nonprofessionals.
“To prevent children from getting all sorts of infections and to protect their physical and mental health, we must end the practice of nonmedical providers performing circumcisions,” Rahmon said on September 1.
Rahmon went on to boast that “only 18,000 baby boys were circumcised by doctors in 2017, but the number of baby boys who underwent such procedures by medics exceeded 33,000 only in the first half of 2018.”
The same controversial law that regulates circumcisions also bans so-called circumcision parties, a lavish traditional feast, saying it puts a financial strain on families.
The law also regulates the number of guests and the amount of food served at weddings, funerals, and other private gatherings. And bans the mournful wailing and wearing of black at funerals, while birthday parties should take place only “within the family circle” with no outside guests allowed.
Violators face hefty fines or risk losing their jobs.
In their everyday lives, Tajiks are required to obey a dress code – at work, at home, and outside -- introduced by authorities in 2018.
Parents are also strongly encouraged to choose pure Tajik names for their newborn babies from a list of names prepared by the government.