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BERLIN (Reuters) - Jewish and Muslim groups protested on Wednesday after a German court banned the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons in the first ruling of its kind in the country.
The court in the western city of Cologne handed down the decision on Tuesday in the case of a doctor prosecuted for circumcising a four-year-old Muslim boy who had to be treated two days later for post-operative bleeding.
It ruled involuntary religious circumcision should be made illegal because it could inflict serious bodily harm on people who had not consented to it.
However the ruling, which applies only to the Cologne area, said boys who consciously decided to be circumcised could have the operation. No age restriction was given, or any more specific details.
The doctor, who was prosecuted after the hospital doctor who treated the boy for bleeding called police, was acquitted as there was no law banning religious circumcision at the time.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany called the ruling an "unprecedented and dramatic intrusion" of the right to religious freedom and an "outrageous and insensitive" act.
"Circumcision for young boys is a solid component of the Jewish religion and has been practiced worldwide for millennia. This religious right is respected in every country around the world," President Dieter Graumann said in a statement.
The Central Council of Muslims in Germany called the sentence a "blatant and inadmissible interference" in the rights of parents.
"Freedom of religion is highly valued in our constitution and cannot be the play-thing of a one-dimensional case law which, furthermore, consolidates existing prejudices and stereotypes," it said in a statement.
According to the court ruling, "the fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighs the fundamental rights of the parents".
"The child's body is permanently and irreparably changed by the circumcision. This change runs counter to the interests of the child, who can decide his religious affiliation himself later in life," it said.
Germany is home to about 4 million Muslims and 120,000 Jews. In Judaism, eight-day-old male infants are circumcised to recall the covenant established between God and the Hebrew patriarch Abraham.
The time for Muslim circumcision varies according to family, region and country.
Concerned the ruling could be followed in other parts of the country and that it could prevent doctors carrying out circumcisions for fear of prosecution, the Central Council of Jews urged the German parliament "to provide legal clarity in order to prevent attacks on religious freedom".
The World Health Organisation estimates 30 percent of men worldwide are circumcised.
In countries including the United States, many parents cite health reasons for having boys circumcised, saying it improves hygiene and can cut the risk of the spread of disease.
Female genital mutilation is forbidden across Germany.
Reporting By Elisa Oddone; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Pravin Char