ESTIMATED 1,000 VICTIMS OF BREAST IRONING IN THE UK
(SOURCE: CAME WOMEN AND GIRLS DEVELOPMENT ORGANISATION)
INCLUDES PRE-TEEN GIRLS ACROSS THE UK
ESTIMATED 3.8 MILLION VICTIMS AROUND THE WORLD
WHAT IS IT?
Breast ironing, also known as breast flattening, involves pounding, massaging, or burning a young girl’s breasts using heated objects like stones and hammers with the aim of stopping her breasts from developing. In many cases, the girl’s breasts are wrapped tightly with a bandage.
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?
Breast ironing is a form of gender-based violence. Although it is deemed as a cultural practice, human rights organisations call it gender-based child abuse. It is done with good intentions from family members, often mothers or grandmothers, as they believe that as a girl enters puberty and her chest develops, she is prone to sexual harassment, rape or early pregnancies. Thus, to protect the girls from unwanted sexual advances, they enforce breast ironing to make their daughters less attractive. In some cases, girls have chosen to “iron” their own breasts.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
The effects of breast ironing are dire. Victims are affected socially and psychologically, often feeling ashamed of their bodies, becoming withdrawn and depressed. Physically, they are left with scars which can lead to infection, and breast tissues can be damaged. In some cases, their breasts can completely disappear. These effects are detrimental for the girls later in life when they have children; many victims of breast ironing have trouble producing milk and breastfeeding when they do have children.
WHY IS IT HAPPENING IN THE UK?
Although it is most commonly practiced across Africa, there has been a rise of breast ironing victims in the UK. Many of the African communities in the UK today come from former British colonies and African countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.
Community workers estimate at least 1,000 victims across the UK, but human rights organisations like Freedom Charity UK believe that the figures are under-reported due to the secrecy of the abuse and the family relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. In the UK, there is also no specific law against breast ironing and there has not been any prosecution for carrying it out. However, there are laws related to common assault, child cruelty and bodily harm, that perpetrators can be prosecuted under.