“Disturbing” videos of child circumcision are being published on YouTube under an exemption for medical and news footage.
The clips feature graphic footage of frontal child nudity as the procedure is carried out. The boys are identifiable, with their faces not blurred, and are seen crying and screaming throughout much of the operation, while nearby adults can be heard laughing.
“The child is in distress and the adults conducting the operation are laughing at the child whilst they scream,” said a YouTube user who reported the videos, but who does not want to be named. “I’ve seen a lot of stuff but this particular thing sticks with me.”
The user reported the videos to YouTube, but the video-sharing site declined to take them down, claiming that the footage is of educational or news value.
“I’d understand their stance if it didn’t involve mocking a distressed and restrained minor, but it’s that which seems to push it too far,” the YouTube user said.
YouTube allows graphic or violent videos to be posted for “educational, documentary, scientific, artistic” reasons. Its guidelines state that users uploading such material should “provide enough information to help people understand what’s going on.”
One YouTube channel appeared to be using the clips as entertainment. It listed the circumcision videos alongside footage of motorcycle stunts and dance competitions. Those videos were removed by YouTube after being contacted by Forbes.
But another channel posted similar graphic videos with no extra information or context, and YouTube did not remove them, pointing out that the videos had been age-restricted.
A YouTube spokesperson said in a statement: “Our Community Guidelines prohibit among other things, gratuitous violence, dangerous and illegal activities, and hate speech. However, we do make exceptions for material with sufficient educational and documentary news value. In those cases, we will age restrict content that may not be suitable for all viewers.”
Several of the videos were labelled as depicting “khatna”, a term for the Islamic rite of male circumcision, which is not considered compulsory. It is usually carried out when a boy reaches seven, and the children featured in the YouTube videos appear to be around this age.
The NSPCC criticised YouTube’s decision to publish the videos. In a statement the charity said: “This is a clear example of the inconsistencies in YouTube’s community guidelines – some of the videos have been taken down and others are age restricted. We would urge anyone concerned about a child in these videos to report it to YouTube rather than comment or share, and we would expect YouTube to act urgently to remove videos which go against their own community standards.”
The Children’s Commissioner for England, described the videos as “very worrying”. Anne Longfield called on YouTube to take responsibility for the content it hosts and “do much more to pro-actively monitor and remove videos that are inappropriate, including using more rigorous and effective reporting procedures.”
Her comments follow a report earlier this month from the UK Parliament’s Digital Culture, Media and Sport Committee on “fake news” and social media, which called for “clear legal liability for the tech companies to act against harmful and illegal content on their platforms“.