Photos: Philippine circumcision rite puts boys under pressure

A row of boys lying on newsprint-covered tables howl in pain and grit their teeth as part of "circumcision season" in the Philippines, when thousands of youngsters suffer through the procedure en masse. The removal of foreskins is a centuries-old rite of passage to adulthood in the country, which has one of the highest rates of male circumcision in the world. Yet even as circumcision comes under increasing scrutiny around the world, with critics branding it "child abuse", it is rarely questioned in the Philippines and boys face tremendous pressure to undergo the procedure.

UPDATED ON JUN 20, 2019 11:51 AM IST 9 Photos
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A boy covers his eyes while being circumcised at a village health centre in Manila. Every year, thousands of pre-teens from poor families go through the operation for free at government or community-sponsored clinics. “I was shouting the whole time because it hurt so bad,” Vladimir Vincent Arbon told AFP after his 20-minute ordeal. (Noel Celis / AFP)

A boy covers his eyes while being circumcised at a village health centre in Manila. Every year, thousands of pre-teens from poor families go through the operation for free at government or community-sponsored clinics. “I was shouting the whole time because it hurt so bad,” Vladimir Vincent Arbon told AFP after his 20-minute ordeal. (Noel Celis / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 20, 2019 11:51 AM IST
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Boys wait their turn to be circumcised at a village health centre in Manila. “My mum told me that I need to get circumcised so I would grow taller and become a real man,” the 11-year-old Arbon added, expressing the pressure many youths face. He was among 1,500 boys who underwent the procedure in one city near Manila, but the scenes are similar in clinics nationwide. (Noel Celis / AFP)

Boys wait their turn to be circumcised at a village health centre in Manila. “My mum told me that I need to get circumcised so I would grow taller and become a real man,” the 11-year-old Arbon added, expressing the pressure many youths face. He was among 1,500 boys who underwent the procedure in one city near Manila, but the scenes are similar in clinics nationwide. (Noel Celis / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 20, 2019 11:51 AM IST
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“To get circumcised is probably the essence of being a man... for boys, circumcision is necessary to be called a man,” Joana Nobleza told AFP after her 11-year-old son Carlos underwent the operation. The boys, some with their parents, arrive before dawn typically in the months of April and May for an anxious wait in long lines -- and then a sharp jolt of pain. (Ted Aljibe / AFP)

“To get circumcised is probably the essence of being a man... for boys, circumcision is necessary to be called a man,” Joana Nobleza told AFP after her 11-year-old son Carlos underwent the operation. The boys, some with their parents, arrive before dawn typically in the months of April and May for an anxious wait in long lines -- and then a sharp jolt of pain. (Ted Aljibe / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 20, 2019 11:51 AM IST
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A boy writhing in pain during a mass circumcision at a village health centre in Manila. Many get local anaesthetics but for some the sensation is still intense. They are also provided with antibiotics to protect against any infections. Around 90% of males are circumcised for non-religious reasons in the Philippines, according to World Health Organization data. (Noel Celis / AFP)

A boy writhing in pain during a mass circumcision at a village health centre in Manila. Many get local anaesthetics but for some the sensation is still intense. They are also provided with antibiotics to protect against any infections. Around 90% of males are circumcised for non-religious reasons in the Philippines, according to World Health Organization data. (Noel Celis / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 20, 2019 11:51 AM IST
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A boy accompanied by his mother waits. In towns across the country, government and health workers convert classrooms, health centres or sports complexes into makeshift operating rooms where boys as young as nine take a number and wait their turn. The pressure even manifests itself in the Tagalog language word for “uncircumcised”, which is a slur similar to coward. (Ted Aljibe / AFP)

A boy accompanied by his mother waits. In towns across the country, government and health workers convert classrooms, health centres or sports complexes into makeshift operating rooms where boys as young as nine take a number and wait their turn. The pressure even manifests itself in the Tagalog language word for “uncircumcised”, which is a slur similar to coward. (Ted Aljibe / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 20, 2019 11:51 AM IST
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The roots of circumcision in the Philippines can be traced back to the arrival of Islam in 1450, according to anthropologist Nestor Castro. However even after the nation became majority-Christian under 300 years of Spanish colonial rule, the practice persisted as a cultural rite. In the past decade the procedure has become increasingly controversial as the anti-circumcision movement has grown worldwide. (Ted Aljibe / AFP)

The roots of circumcision in the Philippines can be traced back to the arrival of Islam in 1450, according to anthropologist Nestor Castro. However even after the nation became majority-Christian under 300 years of Spanish colonial rule, the practice persisted as a cultural rite. In the past decade the procedure has become increasingly controversial as the anti-circumcision movement has grown worldwide. (Ted Aljibe / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 20, 2019 11:51 AM IST
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Critics consider it medically unnecessary and, as the majority of procedures are conducted in infancy, a violation of children’s rights. “I would assume 18 or 19 year olds would have the wherewithal to do some research... and consent only after much thought,” said John Geisheker, spokesman for US-based advocacy group Doctors Opposing Circumcision. “But clearly a 10-year-old or an eight-year-old can’t do that,” he added. (Ted Aljibe / AFP)

Critics consider it medically unnecessary and, as the majority of procedures are conducted in infancy, a violation of children’s rights. “I would assume 18 or 19 year olds would have the wherewithal to do some research... and consent only after much thought,” said John Geisheker, spokesman for US-based advocacy group Doctors Opposing Circumcision. “But clearly a 10-year-old or an eight-year-old can’t do that,” he added. (Ted Aljibe / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 20, 2019 11:51 AM IST
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A decline in circumcisions has been reported in the US, where historically the procedure has been common. There is evidence safe male circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV according to WHO which has included the procedure in some of its programmes in southern Africa. But Castro, the anthropologist, believes removing the foreskin has a very specific value in Philippine culture. (Noel Celis / AFP)

A decline in circumcisions has been reported in the US, where historically the procedure has been common. There is evidence safe male circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV according to WHO which has included the procedure in some of its programmes in southern Africa. But Castro, the anthropologist, believes removing the foreskin has a very specific value in Philippine culture. (Noel Celis / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 20, 2019 11:51 AM IST
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“A circumcised lad is no longer treated as a young boy and is now given more adult roles within family and society,” Castro added, noting it’s also important socially. Holding his hand protectively over his bandage, Erwin Cyrus Elecanal explained: “Going through the test of circumcision has made me a full-fledged adolescent.” The 12-year old added: “I will be more mature now and be helpful to my family.” (Noel Celis / AFP)

“A circumcised lad is no longer treated as a young boy and is now given more adult roles within family and society,” Castro added, noting it’s also important socially. Holding his hand protectively over his bandage, Erwin Cyrus Elecanal explained: “Going through the test of circumcision has made me a full-fledged adolescent.” The 12-year old added: “I will be more mature now and be helpful to my family.” (Noel Celis / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 20, 2019 11:51 AM IST
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