In some communities, girls’ chests are beaten with hot irons to stop their breasts growing and disguise the onset of puberty. The sole reason for this barbaric practice is to make girls less attractive to men.
It’s widespread in some African nations, such as Cameroon, but what makes it even more shocking is that it’s happening here in the U.K.
Up to 50 percent of girls as young as 10 years old undergo breast ironing on a daily basis in Cameroon, and the United Nations has warned that the practice is being continued by the diaspora in Britain, says the Independent.
According to the United Nations, breast ironing affects around 3.8 million teenagers in African countries. A range of tools are used to damage the breast tissue and stop growth, such as large stones, a hammer, a spatula heated over hot coals and umbilical belts.
The physical side effects are serious, with many girls developing cysts, and in extreme cases one or both of the breasts may disappear. Who knows the extent of the mental and emotional repercussions?
Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen Jake Berry will bring the abuse up in a Commons debate on March 22, and urge the government to take action, reported Metro.co.uk.
Berry, who has been working with a women’s charity and spoken to victims of breast ironing in the U.K., said in an interview earlier this month that the nearest thing he could compare it to was female genital mutilation (FGM).
“We believed [FGM] wasn’t happening in this country until people started to talk about it and raise awareness of it,” he said. “People gained more confidence to come forward and say, ‘I was a victim of this form of abuse’ — and I believe breast ironing is similar.”
Berry described breast ironing as a “hidden form of abuse” which is often carried out by “some of the closest family members.”
He wants the police to be given the same powers to stamp out breast ironing they have to stamp out FGM.
In one shocking case, a Birmingham woman was arrested on suspicion of carrying out breast ironing on her own daughter but was released because “that was her culture.”
“In 58 percent of cases, the girl’s mother is the abuser,” said human rights campaigner Mandy Sanghera. “We need to raise awareness of such cultural practices. We need to talk about the impact on young women’s self-esteem. We need teachers, police to take such crimes seriously. Just like FGM and other cultural practices are often done abroad. We need to be more aware and prepared to challenge it.”
In September 2015, anti-FGM campaigner and psychotherapist Leyla Hussein revealed she had met a woman in the U.K. who underwent breast ironing “because of her safety.”
“A couple of years ago I met a woman who had not had undergone FGM, but had also suffered breast ironing. And this was in the U.K. in the 21st century — because of course, abuse knows no time and place,” Hussein wrote in Cosmopolitan magazine.
“The words ‘culture,’ ‘tradition’ or ‘religion’ might come up when trying to explain this absurdly harmful practice, but as in the case of FGM, these words are only thinly veiled excuses… I underwent FGM for my ‘safety,’ too.
“What an absurd world we live in when women’s bodies are not considered safe in their natural state, and men are not considered responsible for controlling their own urges.
“In the U.K., thousands of girls from Cameroon, South Africa, Nigeria, the Republic of Guinea, Togo and Côte d’Ivoire may also be at risk.”
Ealing-based Women’s and Girl’s Development Organisation (Cawogido) work with the police, social services and schools to raise awareness of breast ironing.