Media Centre

Press releases

Feature stories

Photo essays

Reporting guidelines

Media contact


South Africa, 10 July 2013: UNICEF concerned over harmful initiation practices

Pretoria, 10 July, 2013 – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed concern today over the reported deaths of several children as a result of harmful practices, including unsafe male circumcision, during recent initiation ceremonies and calls for an end to any practice that may endanger the well-being of children, in accordance with international human rights instruments.

The United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC), an international human rights treaty which articulates the basic rights of children, makes clear the responsibilities of all members of society, including governments, to ensure the delivery of medical assistance and health care to children and take all effective and appropriate measures to abolish traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.

In addition, South Africa’s strong legislative framework offers protection against unsafe religious and cultural practices that may be harmful to children. According to the Children's Act, circumcision of male children under the age of 16 is prohibited, except when circumcision is performed for religious purposes in accordance with the practice of the religion concerned and in the manner prescribed; or circumcision is performed for medical reasons on the recommendation of a medical practitioner.

The Children’s Act also states that every child has the right to refuse circumcision, taking into consideration the child’s age, maturity and stage of development. According to the Act, the practice may only be performed if the child has given consent, received counseling and the procedure is performed in a prescribed manner.

In accordance with World Health Organisation guidelines, medical male circumcision may also be performed as a public health measure within the context of HIV prevention, especially in countries with high HIV prevalence.

In all cases, male circumcision must be performed by properly trained practitioners.

For more information, please contact:
Thierry Delvigne-Jean, Chief of Communication & Partnerships, UNICEF South Africa, Tel: 012 354 8251;
Emma de Villiers, Communication Specialist, UNICEF South Africa, Tel: 012 354 8252;



 Email this article

unite for children