Iceland: Intersex children at risk while without new protection, activist says

The future health of Iceland’s intersex children has been put at risk with the removal of protections from a draft law that promotes transgender rights, the country’s leading intersex activist said on Tuesday.

An article in the draft Bill on Act on Sexual and Gender Autonomy, expected to come before the Icelandic Parliament this month, which would have outlawed cosmetic surgeries on intersex infants, was taken out, said Kitty Anderson, the founder of Intersex Iceland.

“These practices are rooted in disgust, that our bodies aren’t good enough, that they don’t look the right way”, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As many as 1.7 percent of babies are born with genitals, gonads, reproductive organs, hormones, or chromosomes that don’t fit the usual expectations of male and female, according to the United Nations.

They often undergo surgery to bring the appearance and function of their genitalia into line with that expected of males or females, which research suggests can lead to psychological damage later in life.

Malta is the only country in the world that definitively bans such operations.

In Iceland, which often tops global rankings for gender equality, intersex people who had undergone medically-unnecessary procedures as babies suffer from mental and physical health problems for years as adults, according to research released on Tuesday by Amnesty International.

The draft law makes it easier for transgender people in Iceland to legally change their name and gender. They currently have to be diagnosed with gender identity disorder after an 18-month process.

Meanwhile, a committee has been set up to examine drafting a separate law banning unnecessary intersex surgeries. This could mean an indefinite delay, during which intersex infants will receive no protection, Anderson said.

Iceland’s population of 340,000 makes it hard to escape stigma as an intersex person, the Amnesty International research found.

“Everybody knows everybody and that does exacerbate those feelings of shame”, Amnesty International researcher, Laura Carter, said.

“Coming out in Iceland makes you a public figure”, Anderson said.

Dictionaries used in schools translated the English word intersex into the Icelandic word for ‘freak’ until 2015, Anderson added.

“I would like to be seen as a person”, she said.

The Icelandic government did not respond to a request for comment.

-Rachel Savage, Thomson Reuters Foundation

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