Trans children to be banned from surgery to change their gender, the equalities minister announces   

Currently, people under the age of 18 are allowed surgery but with parental consent

The Department for Health and Social Care are leading on the work on the treatment of children.  
The Department for Health and Social Care are leading on the work on the treatment of children.   Credit: Jon Challicom/ChildLine, /PA

Children who wish to undergo surgery to change their gender will be banned from doing so in future, the equalities minister has announced. 

In a landmark move, which has been criticised by trans rights charities as introducing “a new form of inequality into British medical practice”, Liz Truss said that the Government will set out details of the plans later this summer.

Currently, gender realignment surgery is offered to those aged at least 17, with parental consent. 

Even still, the process is so long drawn out that in reality few teenagers are able to undergo irreversible surgery before they reach adulthood.

However, the equalities minister today signalled plans to ban under-18s with gender dysphoria from genital reconstructive surgery in a move, she claimed, which would  “protect them from making those irreversible decisions”.

Giving evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee, she set out her priorities for the Government Equalities Office and revealed that the Government's full response to reforming the Gender Recognition Act will be published this summer. 

This comes two years after former women and equalities minister, Penny Mordaunt, launched a public consultation into how trans people change their legal gender on their birth certificates.

Under the existing Act, a trans person has to undergo a two-year waiting period and a review from a specialist panel before being able to change their gender legally.

Addressing the Committee, Ms Truss outlined three “very important principles” she will be implementing. This included: the “extremely important” “protection of single-sex spaces”, and ensuring that transgender adults are free to live their lives as they wish without fear of persecution “whilst maintaing the proper checks and balances in the system”.

The minister also addressed the issue of gender reassignment surgery for children which is not directly linked to the Act, but “is relevant”. 

She said it was about “making sure that the under 18s are “protected from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in the future”. 

“I believe strongly that adults should have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit, but I think it’s very important that while people are still developing their decision-making capabilities that we protect them from making those irreversible decisions,” she said. 

“Of course some of these policies have been delayed, Chair, by the specific issues around Covid but I can assure you that alongside the Covid work, our officials continue to do those things to make them happen.”

The Department for Health and Social Care are leading on the work on the treatment of children.

Responding to the minister’s comments, a spokesperson for Mermaids, a charity which supports transgender children, said: “We believe that transgender young people should have the same right to make important personal decisions as non-trans people. 

“It would be an extraordinary move for the Minister for Women and Equalities to support the introduction of a new form of inequality into British medical practice, by effectively treating transgender teenagers as less capable than their cisgender peers.”

The spokesperson added that: “Still, the NHS’s own statistics show the rate of regret around gender affirmation surgeries is very low indeed and the process by which young, trans people access medical interventions is already subject to a number of safeguards, not least the clinical judgement of our own experts within the health system.”

Dr Jane Hamlin, President of the Beaumont Society, a transgender support group, added that it was “reassuring” that Ms Truss believes strongly that adults should have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit. 

“It is essential that all people, whatever their age, should be treated with respect. This, of course, includes trans people. 

However she added: “It is important that those young people who identify as trans should have puberty blockers available to them if they are able to make an informed decision, have the appropriate medical support and there are no underlying health issues that would make this intervention unwise. 

“This would mean that decisions about irreversible surgery would not need to be considered until the individual has reached adulthood.”

CLARIFICATION: As this article now makes clear, gender assignment surgery is currently offered to children from the age of 17, with parental consent, not to all under-18s as the original wording could have implied.