Norway proposes extending transgender rights to children

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway's government proposed on Thursday that children as young as seven should be allowed to change their legal gender with parental support, among the lowest ages in the world for transgender rights. The suggested overhaul of the laws would also let people as young as 16 decide for themselves whether they are male or female, rather than be based on a medical diagnosis as is the case in almost all nations. "Today's rules in this area are unacceptable and have been unchanged for almost 60 years," Health Minister Bent Hoie said in a statement on the plan, to be debated by experts before any formal bill goes to parliament. "The proposal is historic in that it will no longer be the health service but the individual who decides if he or she has changed sex," he said. The draft would allow the parents of children from seven to 16 to apply for a change in legal gender, affecting everything from social security numbers to passports. Anyone aged 16 or above could apply themselves. The proposal only affects legal documents - surgery can only be performed on those aged 18 or above. Anyone who applies for a legal change of gender can reverse it if they later regret it. Richard Köhler, of the Transgender Europe lobby group, welcomed the Norwegian proposal but said the "gold standard" was no formal lower limit, as in nations including Malta. "Generally it is very good to allow very young transpersons to have their gender identity respected," he said, adding that many such children were bullied at school. Amnesty International estimates up to 1.5 million people across Europe are transgender, a term that describes those who identify as a different gender from the one they were born with. Documents from the Norwegian Health Ministry indicated that other European nations with transgender legislation generally set the lower age limit at 18. American Caitlyn Jenner became the world's most prominent transgender star this year, posing on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine almost four decades after she won the Olympic decathlon title as a man, Bruce Jenner. (Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Mark Heinrich)