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"Hidden Hope," watercolor by Viestarts Aistars

Stephen Joseph



Joya's Turn 


It is performed in the name of culture

in the name of tradition,

and worse, in the name of God.


It is done every day

to young girl children throughout the eastern world.

Inside tents in the deserts of Somalia

and the back alley storage bays of Indonesia.


Today it is Joya’s turn

on her ninth birthday

to be held down in a rape position.

An unsharpened kitchen knife

cuts birthday cake between quivering thighs,

blood mixed with soap

the closest thing to anesthesia.


As Joya writhes in pain

and shrieks in horror

onlookers celebrate

her transition into womanhood.


They mean well—

these adults who perform this child abuse—

after all, they are doing God’s work.



Female Genital Mutilation: Abuse, Not Custom



According to the World Health Organization,, female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against females. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a girl child’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

FGM is primarily performed on girls ages 4 to 14, although in some countries it is done to infants. It involves removing a girl’s clitoris and often other external genitalia. FGM is done out of beliefs that it controls a women's sexuality, enhances fertility, serves as initiation into womanhood, or is required by religion, although Muslim and Christian leaders have denounced it. Countries where more than fifty percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 are mutilated include: Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan (north). Countries where ten to fifty percent of females ages 15 to 49 are mutilated include: Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Yemen.

FGM is an invasive, painful and non-medical surgical procedure that is often performed on prepubescent girls without anesthesia. An average of about four girls a minute continue to be mutilated. Their prepuce is removed and their clitoris partially or completely removed. In some traditions, the operation is far more invasive: the labia minora is surgically removed and the labia majora is sewn together, covering the urethra and vagina. A small opening is retained for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid. The result is that sexual feelings are either inhibited or terminated. Sexual intercourse is often extremely painful for the woman afterwards. Childbirth often involves a Caesarian section.

FGM has been a social custom in Northern Africa for millennia. Many people wrongly associate FGM with the religion of Islam. Actually, it is a social custom that is practiced by Animists, Christians and Muslims in those countries where FGM is common. In many Muslim countries practice of this mutilation is essentially unknown, including Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

FGM has no health benefits and it harms girls in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ bodies.

Immediate complications of FGM include severe pain, shock, hemorrhage, tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue. Long-term consequences of FGM include:


  • recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections;
  • cysts;
  • infertility;
  • the need for later surgeries; and
  • an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths.


At one time in the course of human history, slavery was considered normal and acceptable, but not anymore. Apartheid was also once accepted in South Africa as it was sanctioned by the rule of law, but not anymore. Why was slavery and apartheid abolished? Because standards of decency evolved that informed people that these once socially accepted practices were inherently evil.

But there is something more repulsive than slavery and apartheid that still continues to be practiced every day in civilized society and that is female genital mutilation. No one should be allowed to maim a girl child in the name of religion, custom or tradition. It is time to stop this inhumane, barbaric and violent practice so that millions of girl children do not have to suffer the worst form of child abuse in the world.



Stephen Joseph is a computer hardware engineer who lives in Bangalore, India, with his wife and two daughters.  He began writing in May 2008.  He placed 40th out of 17,056 entries in ten categories in the Writer’s Digest 77th Annual Writing Competition in the Mainstream/Literary Short Story Category.  He placed as a Finalist twice, as a Semi-Finalist and as Honorable Mention in humor writing on  He placed 5th in the Second Annual Amazing Story Fiction Contest and 2nd in the Nonfiction Contest, both held on The Write  His poems and essays have been featured in New Plains Review, Inscribed, Perspectives Magazine and A Golden Place.  Most recently, he placed 17th out of an expected 4,000+ entries in the 4th Annual Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards.


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