[Editor's note: Borrowed Manhood is a two-part documentary by Joy FM's Seth Kwame Boateng about the dangers of male circumcision. The first part aired on the 25th of July, 2014. The next episode airs on the 31st of July. It's a rivetting story you don't want to miss]
In our part of the world baby boys are circumcised when they are a few days old.
This delicate operation is done either in a hospital or by traditional surgeons locally referred to as “wanzams”.
However, many of such babies are suffering the trauma of having their penises cut off during such procedures.
These simple and safe surgical procedures with no major risks are leading to severe complications such as total penis amputation.
Seth Kwame Boateng has been investigating this situation for our weekly documentary series, Hotline. Here are excerpts of his documentary titled Borrowed Manhood.
And it is partly the negligence and at times an accident on the part of some doctors, nurses and traditional surgeons known in local parlance as wanzams that led to this irreplaceable lifetime deformity.
“Some of the bleedings are difficult to control. In inexperienced hands what they do is to use the thread to tie the middle part of the penis or even the base of the penis. The bleeding will stop actually. These ties are kept there for hours. After the removal of these ties the portion which is beyond where the tie was will now start to look black and darker. That portion on the penis is dead and after some few days that portion will just fall off and you will see a very short penis,” Dr. Addai-Arhin Appiah, a urologist at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital said.
It has become an issue now because of the many penile amputations innocent boys yet to have a feel of this world have started facing. Dr. George Amoah of the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital Urology told Hotline that the records are staggering.
“Over the past 20 months the unit has witnessed 76 cases of circumcision related complications which needed a urologist attention. Usually the commonest complication we see here is from uteruscortanious fistula and that accounted for 61 cases. But the most tragic is the glands amputation and we have witnessed eight cases. If you completely transect it, it affects the entire circumference of the penis. You are cutting short the length of the penis,” he said.
Take the case of Kwame Danso who lives at Suame in Kumasi. His 10-month-old son has suffered what could literally be termed as “male genital mutilation”. One half of his son’s glans penis was cut off.
“After the delivery on the 9th day we decided to perforn a circumcision so we decided to go to the right source that is the hospital and other family members were saying these wanzam people can do it and do it right. They have observed and that is very good. And I said that no I am an educated person and I can’t do such a thing because if something occurs how am I going to explain to may be the hospital or the doctors? May be I will be damned so I decided to go to the right source,” Kwame Danso narrated.
Unfortunately the worst rather happened when he went to the right source. The circumcision was not done properly. The little boy bled for more than five hours until he was rushed again to the hospital for attention. The boy was only nine days old.
The nurse who performed his circumcision used the plastic bell method. This is where a plastic bell is placed over the glans of the penis and the foreskin is pulled over the outside of the bell. Afterwards the foreskin is tied with a string, all tissue above the string is cut off with a pair of scissors, and the handle is then snapped off. If it is done well, after five days the plastic will fall off by itself. But Kwame Danso said that did not happen in his son’s case so they were compelled to reestablish contact with the nurse.
“We went there and the man looked at it and said you can even do it. You can even use your scissors at home. I was scared! Then he said you people are cowards. It has removed and it has been left with a small part so you can use this and take it out. It went like that and the man just called for some scissors and just removed it. So after removing it we observed that a tissue had been cut off. So we said exclaimed. We drew his attention to the drop of a tissue but he said that was nothing, that’s what normally happens. And after observing I am a man and I know how penis looks like so I said oh this is how it has been and he said yes after healing. Then I said no you cannot lie to me and after that the man saw that the man observed that there is some bleeding coming. Then he asked us to go the hospital and see some doctors,” he continued.
It was at this point that these doctors saw how badly it had gone and referred the case of little Emmanuel to the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital. The barely two-week-old baby was saved by the bell. Others who bleed this way die.
Another victim Sulley Mohammed (not his real name) lives with his parents at Aboabo in Kumasi. Sulley has also lost almost half of his penis. His mother Fati Mohammed (pseudonym) said this happened at Tumu in the Upper East Region when Sulley was only two months old. She took the baby there for a funeral. Her sister-in-law realized Sulley was not circumcised then. So she took the baby to the nearest hospital to be circumcised. They later noticed that the glans penis had been amputated.
“It had been bandaged when he was brought from the hospital. It was after the wound healed and the bandage was removed that I saw that his gland penis had been amputated. The penis had become shorter but it could erect alright and also pass urine. It then occurred to me to rush him to the Komfo Anokye Teaching hospital where doctors there told me they will operate on him. He has been accusing me of being the cause of his amputated penis,” Fati said.
Sulley is only four years old but he has realized there is something wrong with his manhood. He finds it difficult playing with his peers because when he has to urinate whilst playing, they see it and mock him.
Circumcision can be traced to the days of Abraham. According to the Bible, circumcision was instituted by God when he called Abraham. That means to qualify to be a member of the Abrahamic dynasty one has to be circumcised and this has pervaded into our lives up to today.
“Those who were not circumcised were considered to be unclean that is why even today if you associate with somebody who has not been circumcised the society chastises you. People will not even understand why a woman should even sleep with somebody who is not circumcised. There is the belief that there is something unclean which has been given to you. And even people believe that those who have not been circumcised can’t produce because if you look at it carefully you will realize that there is the believe that the sperm cannot penetrate because that foreskin encloses it and will block the sperm from moving into the ovary of the woman,” Dr. Kofi Osei Akuoko, head of Sociology and Social Work department of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology said.
There’s no gainsaying therefore that circumcision will continue to be a crucial procedure performed on male babies in the society.
Being uncircumcised does not mean you cannot have sex or father a child. There is a long-running and vigorous debate over ethical concerns regarding circumcision, particularly neonatal circumcision for reasons other than the expected direct medical benefit.
There are three parties involved in the decision to circumcise a male child, the male child as the patient, the parents or guardians and the doctor.
The doctor is bound under ethical principles of promoting well-being and so is charged with the responsibility to promote the best interest of the patient while minimizing unnecessary harms.
The parents must therefore weigh the factors of what is in the best interest of the child against the potential harms of the procedure.
Because a newborn baby boy cannot make the decision over what is in his best interests.