February 15, 2009

International outrage: Czechs versus Saudis

In a good example of cross-cultural variations related to sexual behavior, international human rights groups are going after two countries for officially sanctioned policies that could not be more different:

Castrating prisoners . . .

In the Czech Republic, first-time, non-violent sex offenders such an exhibitionists can be imprisoned for life. Unless, that is, they agree to be castrated. In the past decade, at least 94 sex offenders have gone under the blade.

In a cleverly entitled article, "The unkindest cut," Time Magazine tackles the controversial issue of castration in that nation.

The Council of Europe, a human rights body, is demanding that the Czechs immediately stop the "degrading" punishment. But as the Dallas Morning News points out, although the Czech Republic may be the only country in Europe that allows the practice, it is certainly not unheard of in the United States. In Texas, for example, three prisoners have undergone voluntary surgical castration in recent years. Many more sex offenders around the country undergo "chemical castrations" that reduce their sex drive -- and potentially their legal sanctions.

Study findings are mixed as to whether castration, either surgical or chemical, is effective at curbing sex offender recidivism.

. . . vs. allowing child marriages

Meanwhile, a little bit to the southeast, Human Rights Watch is up in arms in the wake of a judge's refusal to annul the marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a 47-year-old man. The girl's father reportedly arranged the marriage to his friend in order to settle a debt; when the mother protested, the judge made the girl's husband sign a pledge that he would not have sex with the girl until she reaches puberty.

The nation's top cleric defended the practice, saying girls as young as 10 should be allowed to wed. "Those who think she's too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her," CNN News quoted Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh as saying.

Laws about what age children may marry, or have sexual relations, are complex and vary tremendously from nation to nation, and even within some nations (such as the United States). The median age at which a child can consent to sexual activity is somewhere around age 14-16, but varies from a low of about 9 to a high of 21.

At least the Saudi newlywed should be happy he does not live in the Czech Republic.

Postscript: In an out-of-court settlement, the 8-year-old has been allowed to divorce her husband.

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