For more than a year, Caspien Gruta, has been mocked by his comrades. At 12, he is still not circumcised, the coronavirus having delayed, for thousands of young Filipinos, this ancestral rite of passage to adulthood.
“I am worried because if I cannot be circumcised, I will be ashamed,” admits Gruta.
The Philippines has one of the highest rates of circumcision in the world, an increasingly controversial practice in many countries, with critics likening it to abuse.
Rarely questioned in the Philippines, boys are strongly encouraged to submit to this practice of cultural and non-religious origin. Each year, thousands of pre-adolescents from poor families are operated on free of charge in public hospitals.
But last year:
For the first time in decades, the “circumcision season” did not take place. The coronavirus pandemic has delayed this important moment for many boys, like Gruta.
Teased by the men of their family and their friends, these boys whose foreskin has remained intact impatiently await this moment which will make them fall into adulthood.
Gruta was one of the oldest boys standing in line at an indoor basketball court turned into a makeshift hospital in Silang, south of Manila, where since May the operation has been offered again.
“Now, I have the impression of being a real Filipino because being circumscribed is part of the Filipino identity,” the young boy congratulated after a quick twenty-minute intervention.
Their faces covered with a face mask to protect themselves from the Covid, the young boys wait their turn, seated on plastic chairs. Some do not hide their enthusiasm while others mimic indifference while waving in their chair.
After taking down their shorts, they lie down on a simple wooden table. Their spread legs hang in the air and an operating field covers their lower abdomen.
During the local anesthesia, they bite a towel or cover their eyes. Then, the surgeon removes the foreskin in a few minutes.
– “Become a man” –
“I got circumcised because I was told I would get taller and be better at sports,” said 12-year-old Almer Alciro, who underwent the procedure at another open-air hospital.
Her family could not afford to go to a private clinic where the operation costs up to 12,000 pesos (204 euros), more than the monthly income of many Filipinos
While he waited months for surgery, Alciro’s friends laughed at him calling him the “uncircumcised,” which in Tagalog, the Filipino national language, is an insult synonymous with cowardice. “I am happy because I am finally circumcised”, congratulates Alciro at the end of the intervention.
The roots of this practice go back centuries, a practice that survived colonial rule in Spain and then in the United States.
Circumcision is more common in countries with large Muslim or Jewish communities, and less in predominantly Catholic nations.
Almost 90% of the Filipino male population is circumcised, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
From the age of 8, boys are under social pressure to pass into the hands of a surgeon. Even hospitals invite them through advertisements to have “the courage to become a man”.
“The season of circumcision” is generally from April to June, during the summer holidays. Hundreds of boys are operated on in the open air in the space of a day, but measures to fight Covid-19 have significantly reduced the number of people who can undergo the operation.
Many regions, very affected by the coronavirus, do not yet offer this free service. These delays are not without consequences.
According to Nestor Castro:
Professor of anthropology at the University of the Philippines, circumcision marks “the passage from childhood to adulthood”, when young people assume more responsibility within the family and discover sexuality .
“Once a boy is circumcised, he leaves the world of childhood and is considered … as an adult,” according to Mr. Castro. “If you are a circumcised man … you must act like an adult, and no longer like a young boy.”