MALTA has become the first country in the world to outlaw medical practitioners or other professionals from conducting any involuntary or coerced surgical intervention on minors with intersex variations.

The Gender Identity Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act was passed through Maltese Parliament with cross party support, without a vote, in the early of the morning in Australian time.

A first of its kind around the world, the passage of the bill has been met with praise by Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia, along with various European intersex and trans* organisations.

The new law officially recognises the right to bodily integrity and physical autonomy and protects intersex infants and children from non-necessary medical interventions. These sorts of medical procedures still take place in Australia and around the world, with parental distress or improving marriage prospects as common reasons for it.

Malta’s Gender Identity Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act also meets several other key demands of the intersex movement, including the 2013 recommendations of an Australian Senate committee report.

The relevant part of the act reads:

“It shall be unlawful for medical practitioners or other professionals to conduct any sex assignment treatment and/or surgical intervention on the sex characteristics of a minor which treatment and/or intervention can be deferred until the person to be treated can provide informed consent: Provided that such sex assignment treatment and/or surgical intervention on the sex characteristics of the minor shall be conducted if the minor gives informed consent through the person exercising parental authority or the tutor of the minor.

“In exceptional circumstances treatment may be effected once agreement is reached between the Interdisciplinary Team and the persons exercising parental authority or tutor of the minor who is still unable to provide consent: Provided that medical intervention which is driven by social factors without the consent of the minor, will be in violation of this act.”

The Interdisciplinary Team will be appointed by the government, alongside a larger working group that includes human rights experts, to establish improved treatment protocols “in line with current medical best practices and human rights standards”.

The new Maltese law also provides for an administrative mechanism for the recognition of gender identity, and protection from discrimination for intersex and trans* people.

While OII Australia president Morgan Carpenter said he “warmly” congratulated the Maltese government and parliament, he urged Australian parliamentarians to pass similar legislation, as well.

“This is legislation that Australian governments should be enacting, to implement the recommendations of the 2013 Senate committee report on the involuntary and coerced sterilisation of intersex people,” he said.

“Non-necessary medical interventions still take place on infants and children with intersex variations, across Australia, for rationales that include managing parental distress, social stigma and even ‘improving marriage prospects’.

“These violate international human rights standards and Australian governments must act.”

Intersex people are born with bodies that don’t meet stereotypical expectations for male and female, including a range of genetic, hormonal and anatomical differences in sex characteristics. People with intersex variations have as diverse a range of gender identities as non-intersex people.

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