MUNSTER EXPRESS, Southeastern Ireland, Friday, 22 August 2003.

Infant dies after home circumcision

T he man responsible for carrying out a botched circumcision on four week old Callis Osaghae at a city centre house on Sunday evening may have conducted a number of similar operations in the Dublin area on the same day, it has emerged.

And the man, believed to be of European nationality in his 40s, with white hair, could have charged up to 300 euro per operation, with the parents of the deceased child believing he was a doctor.

As baby Callis, the third child and first born son of Nigerians Idehen (31) and Mabel (23) Osaghae, was buried in an area set aside for deceased infants at St. Otteran's Cemetery, Waterford, yesterday (Thursday), Gardai renewed their appeal for information on the man, who is no longer believed to be in the city.

The infant's grieving parents stayed away from Callis' burial in a bid to avoid further confrontation with journalists who surrounded their home when details of the death first emerged. Gardaí maintained a uniformed presence at the Summerhill Mews townhouse, as the family consistently refused to comment on the tragedy. They did, however, attend a prayer service in the multi-faith oratory at WRH earlier on Thursday, at which they were comforted by family and friends.

The baby, who would have been a month old on Tuesday, died at Waterford Regional Hospital having suffered severe blood loss after what is thought to have been a ritual circumcision.

Callis began bleeding heavily after the procedure was carried out in the family's rented home close to The Glen at about 5pm on Sunday. He was rushed to the emergency room at WRH in a taxi by his parents at about 4.30am on Monday [18 August 2003], but died shortly afterwards. The couple had initially summoned the help of an ambulance but, as the baby was losing a substantial amount of blood, they decided to make their own way to the hospital.

Staff at the hospital subsequently alerted Gardaí, who launched an investigation into the tragedy. Detectives found no visible marks on the infant's body and the results of a post-mortem examination carried out by Dr. Margaret Bolster of the State Pathologists' office in a bid to identify the exact cause of death have so far been inconclusive. Further tests are being carried out and are not expected to be released for several weeks.

Red Volvo

A Garda spokesperson said a number of people, including the infant's parents, had been interviewed as part of the ongoing investigation into the tragedy. The man who carried out the operation is not thought to have any apparent medical training, though Callis' parents are said to have thought he was a doctor. Gardai are now working on the theory that he travelled from Northern Ireland, carried out a number of circumcisions in Dublin and then went on to Waterford city, in a red Volvo estate. His nationality remains unclear.

It is understood the Osaghaes contacted the man from a mobile number they were given by other Nigerians living in Waterford and Dublin. The mobile number has since been disconnected.

Idehen and Mabel Osaghae have lived in Waterford with their two young daughters for over a year. The couple made an application for asylum on 27th June last year, but that application was subsequently withdrawn after the birth of their second daughter. Callis was born at WRH on 19th July. It is thought the family wanted the boy circumcised within six weeks of his birth for religious reasons, though it is not clear if they sought the operation at Ardkeen. A spokesperson for the SEHB has confirmed that WRH does not provide male circumcisions on religious or cultural grounds. If the procedure is deemed necessary on medical grounds, it is undertaken under a general anaesthetic and usually takes place after a child has reached two years of age. Temple St. and Crumlin Children's hospitals in Dublin do carry out circumcision for cultural reasons, in order to dissuade people from carrying out the procedure in unsafe or unhygienic surroundings. Crumlin Children's Hospital carried out 31 non-medical circumcisions this year, compared to 15 in 1993.

Cultural obligation
Circumcision of young male children is a cultural/religious obligation for many of the ethnic groups who are making their home in Ireland, according to Itayi Viriri of the Irish Refugee Council. He added that having the procedure carried out within the community is the norm and that it especially applies to males from Islamic communities and from Eastern and West African countries.

"This is definitely a cultural and in some aspects a religious tradition", he continued. "It is legally available in Ireland and is carried out by qualified personnel. However, most of these communities, even when they move away from home, would have somebody who is designated to carry it out within the community. In Africa you would not need to go to a hospital for the procedure and in most cases everything is fine. Even if a family are modernised and affluent enough to have the circumcision carried out in a hospital, it would not matter, as it is a question of cultural beliefs."

Reacting to the tragedy, however, Dr. Maurice Geuret - a member of the Eastern Regional Health Authority - said Ireland had become a `haven' for bogus doctors, an issue which had been highlighted but not addressed.

Failed the family

Meanwhile a member of the Irish College of General Practitioners' General Practice in a Multicultural Society has slated the Irish medical system for failing the Osaghae family.

Dr. Philip Crowley, project director, said the South Eastern Health Board had been contacted earlier this year over concerns about the board's failure to provide this service in Waterford. "This tragedy has shown us that if people are determined to have a child circumcised, they will do so. Ireland is now a multicultural society and we should have these services available to those who chose to use them. We have made several representations over the past months, urging the health board to develop this service. People would be less likely to have these procedures done in their own home, were they available in our hospitals. This little boy wouldn't have died were the procedure carried out in a hospital."

Fine Gael's Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Gay Mitchell TD said the tragedy had raised profound issues which must be addressed without further delay, namely that the religious and cultural traditions of those who seek male circumcision should be respected and accommodated within the public hospital system.

"There has been a huge change in Irish society and this should be provided for. A Green Paper on Immigration should be published by the Government so that these issues can be addressed comprehensively by the Oireachtas and State Agencies. The Minister of State for European Affairs at the Department of the Taoiseach co-ordinates European issues across Departments. The Government Chief Whip, as the other Minister of State at that Department, should co-ordinate immigrant policies so they can be addressed across Departments and a Minister can be held directly responsible for policy issues. At present nobody is in charge of immigrant issues and this cannot be allowed to continue."

(File prepared 23 August 2003)