Indian state bans unnecessary ‘normalising’ surgeries on intersex babies

The south Indian state of Tamil Nadu has issued an executive order banning medically unnecessary surgeries on babies whose sex is not clear at birth.

The landmark move will protect the estimated 1.7 percent of people born with sex characteristics that differ from social expectations of female or male.

Most of these variations are medically benign, but so-called ‘corrective’ or ‘normalising’ surgeries are regularly performed to make them conform to gendered social norms.

The United Nations has condemned these “genital mutilations” 40 times since 2011.

The landmark move to ban them was made in response to an order by Tamil Nadu’s High Court, which states that intersex children “must be given their time and space to find their true gender identity.”


“Nowhere in India has this been done before,” said Philip C. Philip, an LGBT+ activist at the Human Rights Law Network, urging better education in medical schools so doctors understand intersex bodies.

“This is the first time that intersex persons and their concerns are being dealt with.”

Reuters estimates at least 10,000 intersex babies are born in India each year, but infanticide, abandonment and mutilation are common.

The consent of the parent cannot be considered as the consent of the child

In justification for issuing the ban on surgeries, the government argued that “the consent of the parent cannot be considered as the consent of the child.”

It warns of interventions that could have “lifelong consequences for their physical and mental health, including irreversible termination of all or some of their reproductive and sexual capacity.”

The ban was reportedly opposed by the Indian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, but the government has not issued a response to their concerns.

The only exception to the ban will be in life-threatening situations, such as when the child cannot urinate or internal organs are exposed.

To ensure the “exceptional clause of life-threatening situation shall not be misused,” Tamil Nadu’s government plans to create a committee, including doctors and a social worker or intersex activist, to advise on these surgeries.