Answer to Map #95

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Answer: This week’s map depicted rates of male circumcision for each of the world’s countries.

The data used to make this map came from an academic study from 2016. Since the topic in question is fairly personal, of course, it can be difficult to study, a reality that forces anthropologists to make educated guesses in certain cases. As mentioned when the map was posted, it seems likely that the guess made for Sudan was much too low. There are likely other inaccuracies with this map as well, but overall most people did quite well with it.

Generally speaking, male circumcision is most common in Jewish and Muslim societies, as well as certain societies in which the practice marks a right of passage into adulthood. This latter category includes many countries in central Africa and in the South Pacific. The latter region is complicated, however, since the practice is universal on certain islands and almost unknown on others.

Among Western countries, the U.S. (71.2%) is the only place where male circumcision is still prevalent. In most Western European countries, by contrast, the rates have dropped dramatically. Germany (10.9%), France (14%), and the Netherlands (5.7%) all continue to have especially low rates, even as those countries receive larger numbers of Muslim immigrants. Some of these countries have experienced controversies in recent years. In 2012, for example, a court in Germany ruled that the practice of infant circumcision was “inflicting bodily harm on boys too young to consent” and was thus illegal. This decision outraged both Jewish and Muslim religious groups. Thereafter, Germany’s Bundestag clarified the court’s ruling by explicitly outlining circumstances, especially for religious observance, in which circumcision is legal.

Unlike Western Europe, circumcision rates are actually rising in certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s because the practice is seen by health organizations as a way to quell the spread of HIV. Many countries have set up free clinics in which adult men can opt to go and be circumcised. The sub-Saharan African country in which these efforts have made the least headway is Zimbabwe, which for various political reasons has been less open to Western aid than its neighbors; consequently, you can see on this map that rates in Zimbabwe remain low.

The starkest contrast on this map may be between North Korea, where the practice of circumcision is all but unknown, and South Korea, where the practice is common (77%). It is the uneven influence of American missionaries in these two countries that has produced such a dramatic difference.

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