IRISH EXAMINER, Cork, Ireland, Thursday, 21 August 2003.

Stunned community unites in grief after boy dies

By Neans McSweeney

MEMBERS of the Nigerian community filed in and out of Idehen and Mabel Osaghae's rented townhouse on a hill overlooking Waterford's quays yesterday afternoon, trying to console them after their son's death. Stunned neighbours remained indoors as word of the death of 29-day-old Callis, after a botched circumcision, spread across the city.

The infant was rushed to Waterford Regional Hospital on Sunday night but died after losing a large amount of blood. It is not yet clear if the procedure took place in his own home, or elsewhere in the city.

None of the neighbouring families in Summerhill Mews were willing to talk yesterday. And while there was light inside the family's home, and hushed voices could be heard inside, the family did not wish to talk either.

"We've just been in to see the family. Mabel is very upset and she doesn't want to talk," said one Nigerian man who had been visiting the bereaved family. We've been trying to get her to talk but she doesn't want to. She has one of her daughters with her. We stayed with her, talked to her and prayed for a little while. We will come back later on to see if she wants to talk then," the man said.

One neighbour on the main street said there's never been any trouble, noise or disturbance in the area. "There are all kinds of nationalities in there. And when the apartments across the road here are finished, we'll have even more. It's a grand, quiet part of the city," he added.

The mood in Waterford yesterday afternoon was one of stunned silence. People were sympathetic towards the family and touched by the death of such a young boy. There were also appeals for understanding from anti-racism groups.

Roy Hassey, of Waterford Against Racism, described the death as a tragedy and appealed to people to respect the religious beliefs of the family grieving their son's death.

"Whether people agree to it or not, circumcision is part of the Nigerian community's religious beliefs. Everyone has different beliefs. We have to respect people's cultures and beliefs, just as they respect ours," he said.

The Nigerian community in Waterford and elsewhere is already on edge, he said, because of the constant fear and threat of deportation. "A lot of Nigerians are worried and they feel particularly victimised. The vast majority won't get asylum here. They feel they are being singled out for deportation a lot of the time.

"There are about 300 asylum-seekers in Waterford city and around 30% are Nigerian. They will be upset by this tragedy and will unite to try to help the family through it," he said.

The Irish College of General Practitioners also says the tragedy shows the clear need for better medical services for non-nationals in our community, particularly non-emergency circumcision.

Dr Philip Crowley, who is project director for the ICGP's General Practice in a Multicultural Society, said the need for a better service in Waterford has been highlighted over the past months.

"People would be less likely to have these procedures done in their home, were there a service available to them in the community. Under the teaching of Islam, it is not uncommon for a boy this young to be circumcised. It would not happen, except for medical reasons, to a child this young in Irish culture. A circumcision service in non-medical cases is available in many parts of the country but not in Waterford."

The South Eastern Health Board said there is a service at Waterford Regional Hospital, but only on medical grounds.

(File prepared 23 August 2003)