Ethics of non-therapeutic body modifications in children

Marakalala, Malose Jan
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The subject of Non-Therapeutic Body Modifications (NTBM) in children in the South African setting seem to be out of the radar. It is not thoroughly discussed in the South African circles of academia and in society at large. Here I aim to bring this issue to the fore so that it may receive the necessary attention that I think it deserves. In this research report I focus on only four types of NTBM in children, namely: Body piercing, Labia Minora Elongation (LME), Tattooing and Male circumcision. I seek to defend a claim that the four types of NTBM cannot be morally and legally justifiable. I focus on the ethical and legal arguments to defend this claim. I also provide a brief literature on each practice, which shed some light into the complications of each practice as well as their purported benefits. I also argue that the South African legal framework is not adequately protecting children on NTBM practices. The good intention of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 are falling short when coming to NTBM in children as the rights of parents to practice their culture, religion or social practices seem to reign supreme of the rights of children, not to be subjected to “detrimental religious or cultural practices”. These practices are largely not legally justifiable in their current form as there is lack of alignment between the Constitution and Children’s Act.
A research report submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Medicine (Bioethics and Health Law) to the faculty of health sciences, School of Clinical Medicine, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2022