“No mommy! No, please mommy!” the 8 year-old, demoralized Cameroonian girl pleads. She is petrified as she recalls the events from the previous morning and the agonizing heat that scorched the tender skin of her prepubescent breasts. The wooden walls of her home are the only barrier between excruciating pain and temporary “freedom.” She knows she is supposed to be obedient and endure the twice daily ritual with courage and poise, however, the insistence to lie still while her mother “irons her breasts” is unimaginable. Sadly, she knows all too well that no amount of tears, blood or burned skinned will interfere with this “labor of love.”
In 2005, “Breast Ironing” was first identified in a report written by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ). “Breast Ironing” is a traumatizing ritual in which Cameroonian mothers heat various items such as hammers, grinding stones, wooden pestles, spatulas and/or coconut shells to pound and flatten young girls’ developing breasts. Mothers perform this ritual as a means of sex prevention. It is believed that breast ironing will protect their daughters from sexual harassment, rape and early pregnancy any of which will inhibit educational opportunities and tarnish the family name. One out of four Cameroonian girls are subjected to this inhumane custom every day. However, mothers are unaware of the long-term effects of this cultural atrocity. They do not understand that adolescent girls who are forced to endure this form of breast mutilation are susceptible to clinical depression, breast cancer and lose the gift to ever breastfeed their own children.
We must expose the torture and extract the ignorance regarding breast ironing and ultimately eradicate this practice from the afflicted communities. It is imperative that the world hear each victim’s cry for help.
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Breast ironing (also known as breast flattening) is the pounding and massaging of a pubescent girl's breasts, using hard or heated objects, to try to make them stop developing or disappear. It is...
Breast ironing (also known as breast flattening) is the pounding and massaging of a pubescent girl's breasts, using hard or heated objects, to try to make them stop developing or disappear. It is typically carried out by the girl's mother who will say she is trying to protect the girl from sexual harassment and rape, to prevent early pregnancy that would tarnish the family name, or to allow the girl to pursue education rather than be forced into early marriage. It is mostly practiced in parts of Cameroon, where boys and men may think that girls whose breasts have begun to grow are ready for sex. The most widely used implement for breast ironing is a wooden pestle normally used for pounding tubers. Other tools used include leaves, bananas, coconut shells, grinding stones, ladles, spatulas, and hammers heated over coals.
Breast ironing is extremely painful and can cause tissue damage. There have been no medical studies on its effects. However, medical experts warn it might contribute toward breast cancer, cysts and depression,and perhaps interfere with breastfeeding later. Other possible side-effects reported by GIZ include breast infections, the formation of abscesses, malformed breasts and the eradication of one or both breasts. The practice ranges dramatically in its severity, from using heated leaves to press and massage the breasts, to using a scalding grinding stone to crush the budding gland. Due to the range of this activity, health consequences vary from benign to acute.