Breast Ironing: the Harmful Practice of Flattening the Breasts of Young Girls to Hide Puberty




Breast ironing, a traditional practice commonly done in Cameroon, is the process whereby young pubescent girls breasts are ironed, massaged or pounded down through the use of hard or heated objects and then bound with a constrictive material in order to stop or slow the development of breasts in young girls.

Why These African Mothers 'Iron' Their Daughters' Breasts

In places where the practice is rife, it is believed that by carrying out this act, young girls will be protected from harassment, rape, abduction and early forced marriage.

Breast Ironing
An African girl undergoing breast Ironing – Source: guardian.ng

Breast Ironing: the Harmful Practice of Flattening the Breasts of Young Girls to Hide Puberty

According to the United Nations (UN), Breast Ironing affects 3.8 million women around the world and it is one of the five under-reported crimes relating to gender-based violence.

The traditional practice is designed to make teenage girls look less ‘womanly’ and to deter unwanted male attention, pregnancy and rape. The practice is commonly performed by family members, mostly by the mother.

The idea is that by flattening their breasts, youngsters will be less sexually attractive and less likely to become pregnant at a young age, preventing them bringing shame on their families.

Breast ironing is practiced in all ten regions of Cameroon, where the perception by boys and men is that if a girls breasts have begun to grow’, she is ready for sex.

A 2006 survey by the German development agency GIZ of more than 5,000 Cameroonian girls and women between the ages of 10 and 82 estimated that nearly one in four had undergone breast ironing, corresponding to four million girls. The survey also reported that it is most commonly practiced in urban areas, where mothers fear their daughters could be more exposed to sexual abuse

The unnatural practice has also been reported in Benin, Ivory Coast, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Togo, Zimbabwe, Guinea-Conakry and even Britain.

The most widely used implement for breast ironing is a wooden pestle, grinding stones, spatula and hammers heated over hot charcoals.

Side Effects of Breast Ironing

Due to the instruments which are used during the process of breast ironing, combined with insufficient aftercare, young girls who go through the process are often exposed to psychological traumas and numerous health problems such as abscesses, itching, and discharge of milk, infection, dissymmetry of the breasts, cysts, breast infections, severe fever, tissue damage and even the complete disappearance of one or both breasts.

Although no medical studies of its effects have taken place, medical experts warn it could contribute to breast cancer and cysts and interfere with breastfeeding later in life.

Victim’s Story: One woman, who is remaining anonymous, told Sky News: “They put the spatula on the fire and then they press it on the breast and yes, it hurts.

“Then it goes weak, it’s like melting, fat melting and you can feel the breast going back… one of my breasts is bigger than the other one.”

Currently, there are are no laws within the countries where it is rife that condemns breast ironing, but there are many non-profit organisations that are working to raise awareness of the dangers of the harmful practice.

A teenage girl whose breasts are pressed with umbilical belt. Photo credit: Mirror

Breast Ironing Facts

Here are the stuffs we know about Breast Ironing.

Breast ironing is practised throughout Cameroon and has also been reported across West and Central Africa, in Benin, Chad, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea-Conakry, Kenya, Togo and Zimbabwe. In South Africa, a similar practice is known as “breast sweeping”.

There are thought to be around four million victims in Cameroon, with four in 10 schoolgirls affected.

It is estimated that thousands of girls in African communities in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Luton, Nottingham, Leicester, Sheffield and Leeds may be exposed to the ritual, which usually happens in the family home.

Breast ironing is both physically and psychologically damaging. It can cause infections and abscesses and has been linked to breast cancer, problems with breastfeeding, and severe depression.

The UN estimates that 58 per cent of perpetrators are the victim’s mother.

Commonly Asked Questions

What is the reason for breast ironing?

In places where the practice is rife, it is believed that by carrying out this act, young girls will be protected from harassment, rape, abduction and early forced marriage.

Does breast ironing still exist?

Yes breast ironing still exists. The custom is still practiced in all ten regions of Cameroon, it has also been reported in Benin, Ivory Coast, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Togo, Zimbabwe, Guinea-Conakry and even Britain.

How common is breast ironing?

A 2006 survey by the German development agency GIZ of more than 5,000 Cameroonian girls and women between the ages of 10 and 82 estimated that nearly one in four had undergone breast ironing, corresponding to four million girls.

Is breast ironing a safeguarding matter?

Those who practice it think that they are protecting the young girls from harassment, rape, abduction and early forced marriage.

Where is breast ironing most common?

Breast ironing is common in West and Central Africa, including Guinea-Bissau, Chad, Togo, Benin, Guinea-Conakry, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya and Zimbabwe. It’s particularly prevalent in Cameroon: there, the number of girls who have been subjected to breast ironing is estimated be as high as one in three

What are the negative effects of breast ironing?

young girls who go through the process are often exposed to psychological traumas and numerous health problems such as abscesses, itching, and discharge of milk, infection, dissymmetry of the breasts, cysts, breast infections, severe fever, tissue damage and even the complete disappearance of one or both breasts.

Sources:

Breast Ironing

What is breast ironing and what are its consequences?

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breast_ironing





Mr Madu
Mr Madu is a freelance writer, a lover of Africa and a frequent hiker who loves long, vigorous walks, usually on hills or mountains.

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