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Commission welcomes passage of new ACT intersex laws

Sex Discrimination
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Content type: Media Release
Topic(s): Sex Discrimination

New legislation protecting the rights of people in the Australian Capital Territory who have variations in sex characteristics (VSC) has been welcomed by the Commission.

Yesterday the ACT Parliament passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023 establishes legal protections and processes to support people with VSC to make their own decisions about permanent medical treatments affecting their bodies.

The legislation – which will come into full effect in 2024 – is complemented by a suite of actions to increase the capacity of the ACT health system to support relevant care.

Intersex people have innate sex characteristics that don’t fit medical and social norms for female or male bodies, and that create risks or experiences of stigma, discrimination and harm. Sex characteristics are physical features relating to sex, including chromosomes, genitals, gonads, hormones, and other reproductive anatomy, and secondary features that emerge from puberty.

People with VSC comprise up to 1.7% of Australians and many experience medical interventions to modify their sex characteristics when they are infants or children and are too young to be able to provide their own consent. This can create physical and mental health issues for intersex people later in life.

The new legislation aligns with a range of recommendations contained in the Commission’s 2021 report about protecting the human rights of people born with VSC in the context of medical interventions.  Read: Ensuring health and bodily integrity: towards a human rights approach for people born with variations in sex characteristics.

Commission President Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM said: “The Commission welcomes the passage of this new bill which puts in place better protections for children and young people with VSC who do not have the legal capacity to make life altering decisions for themselves. 

“We’re also pleased the new legislation has been significantly informed by work undertaken by the Commission over the last few years which has been guided by a range of principles which Australia is obliged to promote and protect under various international human rights treaties.

“Chief among these are the right to autonomy and bodily integrity, and the right for children and young people to express their views in relation to decisions that affect them.

“Ultimately, this new legislation provides a much-awaited legal framework to address a challenging set of human rights issues that can have significant personal impacts if not effectively addressed.

“I commend the ACT Government for leading the way and providing a legislative model that other jurisdictions across Australia can now follow to help protect the rights of young people with VSC.

“I also commend the efforts of all the people with VSC, advocates for people with VSC, medical professionals and parents who have worked together to deliver this landmark bill for diversity and inclusion in Australia.”

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