“On the one hand, you have to protect the potential victims and on the other hand, I wanted to be protected from myself. I wanted to live like a normal person,” says Pavel – a child sex offender from the Czech Republic who declined to state his surname for fears of being harassed – after undergoing the voluntary but controversial surgical procedure of castration.

Just last month, the Council of Europe’s Anti-Torture Committee criticised Germany for its pro-castration stance. Germany is currently the only country in Europe along with the Czech Republic that has institutionalised surgical castration of sex offenders. Although the committee concedes to the fact that it is a voluntary procedure and is only done under strict and well-controlled circumstances, it still accuses these countries of a return to the Dark Ages.

Chemical castration has similar results to physical castration but follows a different process. The individual’s sex drive (and consequently sexual activity) is reduced through medication as opposed to surgery. This done is in the hopes of preventing sexual predators from re-enacting their crimes. This medical procedure has garnered just as much attention as physical castration over the past few weeks.

On 29 February, a law allowing the chemical castration of paedophiles was passed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Russia is not the first country to pass this particular law. In fact, Portugal, France, Britain, Denmark, Sweden and certain states in the USA already offer chemical castration drugs to sexual offenders who choose to take them. India is currently considering passing these laws as well. Since September 2009 Poland remains the only country in the European Union which has imposed legislation that actually forces child molesters to undergo chemical castration. South Korea followed in Poland’s footsteps in July last year.

Although castration is not a new concept, it remains a contentious issue. The function of physical castration is simple: by removing the testicles, there is little or no testosterone produced – the overproduction of which is said to cause this sexually deviant behaviour. The removal of these organs result in a reduction or complete loss of libido. The same procedure would apply to female sex offenders, with the ovaries (which produce oestrogen) being removed.

According to The Washington Post, the German government continues to endorse surgical castration because of its evident success. The Czech Republic echoes Germany’s views on the matter – castration is seen as a treatment rather than a punishment. Dr Martin Holly, director of the Psychiatric Hospital Bohnice in Prague, says that of the nearly 100 sex offenders who had been physically castrated over the past decade, none had re-committed crimes of a sexual nature.

Despite these apparent benefits of surgical castration, there are also the mental and emotional implications of the procedure to consider. A decrease in masculinity has also been recorded – these include physical strength of the body, muscle mass and body hair. Furthermore, without adequate hormone replacement therapy, men can experience symptoms similar to those of menopausal women: hot flushes, weight gain or redistribution of body fat to the hips or chest, resulting in gynecomastia (enlargement of the breasts).

Chemical castration, unlike surgical castration, does not involve surgery. The procedure is also reversible once treatment is stopped. However, the chemicals used to castrate an individual do have a lasting effect on the body. Cyproterone or the female contraceptive Depo-Provera are administered by most castration programmes. According to, anti-androgenic effects on the body include loss in bone density (increasing the risk of osteoporosis) and a long-term risk for cardiovascular disease.

Apart from the physical effects of these procedures, there have been ethical objections to castration. The American Civil Liberties Union is one of many organisations against the forced administration of any kind of medication whatsoever for sex offenders. They argue that these procedures infringe on the rights of such individuals.

According to academic website Serendip, experts maintain that these drugs are ineffective and do not prevent sexual predators from commiting rape, molestation or other sexual offences. A writer representing the views of British newspaper The Telegraph maintains that proponents of these laws cannot rely on studies in terms of effectiveness either, as these depend on self-reporting by the sexual offenders themselves.

The impracticalities of chemical castration must also be considered. Sex offenders undergoing chemical castration should be monitored on a regular basis to ensure that they are taking their medication. Take, for example, Joseph Frank Smith. In the 1980s, Smith was convicted of child molestation and started chemical treatment. He quickly became an advocate for chemical castration. However, in 1999 he was convicted of molesting a five-year-old girl – a year after discontinuing his treatment.

In South Africa, castration has yet to become a common practice. There was, however, one landmark case in July 2003. A Durban school teacher, convicted of child molestation and child pornography, requested to be chemically castrated instead of being sent to jail. His request was granted. However, South African specialist child abuse prosecutor, Vaneshree Moodley, does not believe that castration can treat the psychological causes of these behaviours.

Alternatively, in an article entitled “Castration Works” for, Susan Feinstein argues that a castrated person would be “more docile” and therefore be more likely to be rehabilitated, allowing him/her to be a “worthwhile citizen”. She also argues that prison merely results in further aggressive behaviour which could lead to committing sexual abuse again once the criminal has been released.

It seems that this debate is set to continue for some years. It is an intensely complex issue to consider when the public must decide whose rights take preference: those of the sex offenders – who are subjected to a punishment that is considered inhumane – or those of the victims and society as a whole, who demand protection.

Photo: Desré Barnard

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