Intersex surgery on infants still carried out in Malta, despite ban, report indicates

ILGA-Europe annual review on LGBTI rights notes that surgery on intersex babies still carried out in Malta, despite 2015 law banning practice

ILGA-Europe's Annual Review notes how surgery on intersex babies is still carried out in Malta, despite a 2015 ban
ILGA-Europe's Annual Review notes how surgery on intersex babies is still carried out in Malta, despite a 2015 ban

Surgery on intersex infants is still being carried out in Malta, despite a 2015 law which prohibits the practice, a report has noted.

ILGA-Europe’s annual review, published today, found that there was a serious lack of legislation across Europe when it comes to intersex rights, but that laws in themselves were only a first step, since changes in practice required long-term commitment.

In this regard, the review underlined how, despite a ban on “normalisation” surgery for intersex babies in Malta, the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) had shown that “intersex surgeries continue to be practiced in Malta”.

“On 26 June, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended Malta to protect intersex children from all nonconsensual and unnecessary medical or surgical procedures, which continue to be practiced despite the ban. Civil society warned that sanctions for these harmful practices were only introduced in 2018, three years after the law was adopted, and that they are much lighter than in the case of female genital mutilation. The CRC also called for support for families and their intersex children and redress for victims,” the review emphasised.

ILGA-Europe’s annual review examines the human rights situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people in Europe and Central Asia. It is a separate publication from the Rainbow Review, published by ILGA-Europe every May, which in 2019 ranked Malta as the top country in Europe for LGBTI rights.

Amongst the other areas of concern, the annual review identified “the plight of LGBTIQ asylum seekers in Malta”.

“The case of a gay couple seeking asylum in Malta is highlighted, where one partner has been granted asylum while the other awaits a decision,” the report said, referring specifically to the case of a Tunisian couple who were interview by sister newspaper Illum last September

“Fleeing potential imprisonment and death, the couple has been in Malta for two years but remained in legal limbo, with no indication of when and if they would be granted asylum. In the end, one of them was granted status, and the other is waiting for a decision from the appeals board,” the review highlighted.

On the positive side, the review said that 2019 was also been a year of positive developments for rainbow families in the region, with expansion of family rights having take place in Malta, Andorra, Austria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The review notes that last April, the Education Ministry launched two national policy documents guiding educators, schools, parents, professionals and stakeholders on inclusive education.

It acknowledges that, in July, the Equality Act and Human Rights and Equality Commission Act were tabled in Parliament and are expected to be adopted in 2020.

It pointed out that the government’s All Welcome campaign - launched in June as part of its LGBTI Equality and Strategy Action Plan (2018-2022) - had been put on hold after having been met with a “mostly negative” reaction from the LGBTI community. The campaign, which encouraged businesses to post a sticker on their establishments saying they were LGBTI-friendly, had led to a backlash last summer.

The review goes on to note that, by September, Rainbow Families Network in Malta - which focuses or organising discussions and information exchange - had welcomed 27 families, including 36 same-sex parents and eight parents of trans children.

It said malta’s first gender wellbeing clinic, opened in 2018, “has been successfully running and providing services to trans people, including counseling, hormone therapy and other gender affirming healthcare”. Up till November, the clinic received almost 125 referrals.

Amongst the other positive points, the report recognised the government’s presentations of guidelines on transgender healthcare services, the instructions issued by the Equality Ministry for police to refer to individuals in gender netural terms in their media reports and the finding in October’s Eurobarometer’s that Malta’s societal support for third-option gender markers is the highest in the EU.

The review, however, said that, although the lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men was revised in September - with gay men now being able to donate as long as they have abstained from sex for one year - this was still too long a period as perceived as discriminatory.

Government committed to LGBTIQ equality

In a reaction to the annual review, the Equality Ministry noted that Malta retained its top spot when it came to the LGBTI legal framework, but that it would keep working so that civil rights are translated to full equality in everyday life.

“This government remains committed to implementing the LGBTI Equality and Strategy Action Plan (2018-2022),” it said.

The ministry said that Malta was the first country in the world to introduce measures to protect intersex persons’ rights. “While we will continue looking into how we can improve the support given to the families of intersex babies and adolescent, we will also ensure that the necessary protective measures remain safeguarded,” the ministry added.

The full report can be accessed here.