I have just read about breast ironing and am more furious than shocked. Although I was oblivious to any such practices I am not shocked as I am from a culture where mothers and elder ladies of the family go to crazy lengths to shape a baby’s head or nose or lengthen their neck. I am against all that and so is my family. I have also heard about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and it hurts my heart to think of such cruel practices. I am glad people are speaking up against these tabooed topics and creating awareness. This is my share of creating awareness around breast ironing.
I am all for respecting cultures, but only until they are harmless, which this practice is obviously not. While I am more inclined toward using terms like horrid, barbaric, and disgusting in relevance to this topic, I will try to maintain a professional tone in this blog so that my opinion is not dismissed as that of a mother raged with hormones.
What is Breast Ironing?
It is a cultural practice of ironing the breasts of young girls, mostly pubescent girls with hot objects to suppress or delay the growth of breasts in an effort to protect them from sexual abuse. In the areas, this is practiced men believe that when young girls develop breasts they are ready for sex and thus are considered fair game. Thus mostly the mothers of young girls or other elderly women of the family in an attempt to hide any signs of pubertal development practice breast ironing.
The tools used to iron the breast are heated wooden spatulas, bananas, stones, coals, and such items. This torture goes on for months and sometimes years. A girl child is also made to constantly wear a really tight strap over her budding breasts in an attempt to suppress the growth of her breasts, which is suffocating and painful. This is a kind of violence against women that is carried out by women and passed down to generations.
As it always starts with something innocent, this practice has its roots in breast messages to ease the pain of nursing. Increase in sexual abuse of young girls leads to this practice for their safety from sexual perpetrators. In the
Where it is practiced?
This is practiced all over ten regions of Cameroon and most regions of West, Central, and South Africa. Immigrants take their culture with them so unreported this practice has also been introduced on a very small scale in the UK, USA, and Canada.
Breast ironing and its impact have not been yet studied in any scientific research but doctors are of opinion that it does not delay the onset of puberty and the prospect of rape. However, it is extremely painful and does damage the tissues which can contribute to cysts, difficulty breastfeeding, and even the development of breast cancer.
Again there have been no scientific researches to analyze the psychological damage this breast ironing causes to the victim but doctors, activists, and social workers have discussed its implications. Victims who have spoken about the issue have reported suffering a significant amount of depression and anxiety after being inflicted with breast ironing. It does not only cause physical pain, which I can only imagine it is also trauma as any other physical abuse directed towards a child.
This practice contributes towards the false belief that sexual abuse or rape is somehow the victim’s fault and they could have done something differently to protect themselves from the abuse, directing the guilt and blame towards the victim. It has reportedly also damaged the body image of the victims and had brought the feeling of shame in them about their body, sexuality and their inner strength. If they cried aloud out of pain, they were labeled as weak and bringing shame to the family.
It also damages the sexual experiences of girls in later life and contributes towards a negative perspective towards men and sex. Experts agree that it can cause depression and PTSD in childhood and even years later in adult life.
Is there a law against it?
I am surprised that it is not technically illegal. While there is no specific law against this practice, it surely is child abuse and person inflicting the damage to the child can be held accountable in court for child abuse, both physical and mental (and perhaps sexual).
Where to find help?
If you are being subjected to breast ironing, or you were a victim of this cruel cultural practice, please know that you are not alone and there is help available. Please call The Child Help National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800) 422-4453 for USA and Canada, 0800 1111for Childline UK and 1800 55 1800 for Kids Help Line Australia.
The professional help is available 24/7, you just need to make a call. If you are in the UK and above the age of 18, you can also call the free, confidential Action on Elder Abuse helpline on 0808 808 8141. For Australia, You can call at 131114 at Lifeline Australia.