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Dangers of Breast Ironing Young Females in Africa

Updated on April 16, 2016

Definition: Breast ironing is the act of massaging and pounding the breasts of a pubescent girl using heated rock, spatula or hammer in order to stop the budding breasts from growing and developing.

Breast ironing females especially when they are still young involves using hammer, smooth rock or other hard objects that have been heated on hot coal to flatten the breasts of girls by their mothers or any female member of the family immediately they start growing breasts so as to render them unattractive and sexually unappealing to the men-folk.

This barbaric act is mostly practiced in East, West and Central Africa but predominantly practiced in Cameroon; all of Cameroon’s 200 ethnic groups practice this act where a girl as early as eight has had her very tiny breasts flattened. These young girls are made to go through agonizing pains for weeks until their breasts finally becomes flat; all in a bid to prevent rape, teenage pregnancy and sexual harassment.

Sometime last week, confirmed reports has it that black British moms are practicing this heinous act. British MP, Jake Berry who described this act as a “ritualized form of child abuse” has called for this act to be made a criminal offence in the UK.

The following points are disadvantages, demerits and dangers of breasts ironing women.

  1. 1. Breast-related health issues

Since hard and hot objects are used to press and grind the budding gland in the breasts, experts say it can result to tissue damage. Most young girls with ages ranging from 11-16 years that had undergone breast ironing suffer numerous breast-related health challenges like cancer, itching, discharge of milk when not breast-feeding, abscesses, dissymmetry of the breasts, constant severe fever and breast infection. Eventually when they start having kids, they are unable to breast feed their children because no milk is produced; need I explain why? These victims complain that they would further be subjected to unwarranted pains by having driver ants placed on their breasts to bite them so as to cause the breasts to swell and produce breast milk which many reports still proved abortive. What a tradition! If these mothers know their daughters would eventually have kids to breast feed, why iron the breasts in the first place?

  1. 2. Lack of Self Confidence

When they become adults, victims of breast-ironing find it difficult to mingle with other females who didn’t undergo such act. They also find it difficult to be in a relationship that would end at the altar because most men would rather court a physically well-endowed or attractive woman than a flat-chested one where the dried-up flap of tissue hanging on the chest is enough to scare them away for life. The breasts of a girl as young as 18-25 that is supposed to be firm would look like that of a 60-year-old woman who is no longer breast-feeding. This is really pathetic. About 50% of the victims that spoke out in their twenties said that they normally look at their friends enviously secretely wishing they could turn back the hands of time and disappear from their homes at that early age before they could be subjected to such irreversible torture that is now affecting them as adults.

  1. 3. Trauma

It eventually causes physical, mental and psychological trauma, suffering, pains and shock which is difficult to get over even when these girls become fully grown-up adults.

Traumatized Victims Speak Out

A victim who spoke with Sky New narrated how a scalding hot spatula would be place on the fire and then pressed on her breasts by her mother which was excruciatingly painful. She recalled how her breasts went weak and slack just like the melting of fat; she said one of her breasts is bigger than the other.

v Another victim of breast ironing is Cathy Abah Fouda who works for an NGO called RENATA, which campaigns against this monstrous practice. She recalled how she started growing breast at 10 and how her mother noticed it and panicked that she would attract boys. Cathy said she was breast-ironed at 10, and when she turned 11, her breast grew again. Out of shame and fear of what people would say she decided to start breast-ironing herself. Even at that, breast-ironing couldn’t prevent Cathy from getting pregnant at 16 and leaving school. Cathy’s breasts were badly damaged that she had to undergo surgery and as a result, her baby was unable to have that nourishing breast-milk from the mother.

v 29-year-old Jeannette, a victim of breast-ironing said she was made to understand by her mum and grandmother that having breasts was shameful. She recalled how she was made to lie down on a bamboo bed set by the fire when she turned 10. Jeannette said her grandmother pressed her breasts with a hot wooden spatula and continued this ritual until her breasts finally stopped growing.

v A French photographer, Gildas Pare travelled to Cameroon to photograph and interview some of the victims of breast ironing. He discovered that most of them are gathering money for breast operations, so that they can look good in choice clothes; good enough to mix up with others non-victims in the society, but until they achieve that, they prefer to just hide themselves. Gildas stated that it was mostly the psychological trauma that affected the victims because they were broken on the inside.

v One of the women Gildas interviewed said she was a victim of rape despite the fact that she was breast-ironed with a spatula and a rock. To add to her misery, she was given off in marriage to a man without her consent and she had a kid when she was just 14years old.

v Lisette, a 34-year-old woman told Gildas that when she started growing breasts, her mother took her to a traditional healer who grabbed a knife and cut off her breasts! She recalled how she fainted from the pains that took days to heal.

v 23-year-old Emmanuelle recalled how breast ironing didn’t stop her cousin from raping and impregnating her at 13. When she gave birth, she couldn’t produce breast milk to feed her child. Driver ants were used to sting her to boost milk production, it didn’t work. She said she has had three children but none of them was she able to breast feed.

Women and victims are now coming forward to speak about their painful experiences, to campaign against breast-ironing, to create awareness and to bring to a final stop this inhuman excused form of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

Oh Africans! Arise with one voice and fight against this barbaric act. How do we expect other continents to value our culture and heritage or to regard us with respect if we still live in archaic age in the face of technological revolution and awakening? Apart from the fact that this practice is horrendous, it is also unscriptural. Where is it written in the Holy Bible that a girl’s breast which by the way was perfectly created by God should have to subject to such sheer brutality all in the name of protecting the girls from the opposite sex?

Cameroonians! Africans! This is a Compatriot Call; let us walk hand in hand to drive this heinous practice of breast-ironing our great mothers of Africa to extinction once and for all.


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