These Groups Want Unnecessary Surgery On Intersex Infants To Be Made A Crime

"We hope we can use the statement to encourage the Australian government to respond properly to these forms of abuse."

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Intersex groups in Australia and New Zealand have called for the immediate criminalisation of deferrable surgeries on intersex infants, in a landmark statement released on Friday.

Intersex is an umbrella term for people born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't appear to fit the general definitions of male and female. This can include atypical genitals, gonads or chromosomes.

Co-executive director of Organisation Intersex International Australia, Morgan Carpenter, told BuzzFeed News the statement was a "huge" and "very significant" development for the community.

"It's the first time that anything like this has happened, where organisations have gotten together and reached a common platform in Australia and New Zealand," he said. "This will be guiding our work for the next few years."

The statement sets out a number of priorities and calls to action for the intersex community in the areas of human rights and legal reform; health and wellbeing; peer support; allies; and education, awareness and employment.

A significant part of the statement is the call to criminalise deferrable medical interventions performed on infants and children that alter sex characteristics.

This can include surgery to make genitalia look less ambiguous – for instance, a clitoridectomy – or hormone treatment to prompt the development of secondary sex characteristics such as breasts or an Adam's apple.

A 2016 survey of 272 intersex Australians found a majority of intersex people who had undergone medical treatment received no information on the option of declining and deferring treatment, while one fifth said they were given “no information at all”.

The statement calls for human rights based oversight mechanisms before such decisions are made.

"It's not just us saying this, but the UN and many other institutions describe these interventions as harmful practices, forms of torture, ill-treatment and abuse," Carpenter said.

"We hope we can use the statement to encourage the Australian government to respond properly to these forms of abuse."

The comprehensive statement also calls for an end to sex/gender classification on birth certificates and asks for advisory bodies to develop appropriate, human rights based standards of care for intersex people.

Another section recognises the importance of peer support in the intersex community.

"No intersex person or parent of an intersex child should feel they are alone, irrespective of their bodily variation or the language they use," it reads.

Carpenter said there was significant stigma and lack of understanding around people who are intersex.

"Research published last year showed 18% of people with intersex variations don't finish school," he said.

"That can be down to bullying – we're too tall, too short, we're developing too slowly, we're developing in ways that don't reach society's expectations. This is one way stigma is manifest, with life-long effects."

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Lane Sainty at lane.sainty@buzzfeed.com.

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