Girls across the United Kingdom are being subjected to “breast ironing,”a painful and dangerous practice that seeks to stunt the development of the breasts, according to a report in the Guardian.
“Margaret Nyuydzewira, head of the diaspora group Came Women and Girls Development Organisation (Cawogido), estimated that at least 1,000 women and girls in the UK had been subjected to the intervention,” according to the publication.
Breast ironing can take different forms, including using a belt to bind the breasts of pubescent girls, or heating a stone and pounding or massaging the breasts in an effort to stop them from growing. The perpetrators of this practice are typically mothers, who want to protect their daughters from premature sexual activity, rape, or an early forced marriage that would require them to leave school.
The origins of breast ironing are murky, but it has been documented in African countries such as Cameroon, Benin, Chad and Togo. It also reportedly takes place in African diaspora communities. While mothers may subject their daughters to breast ironing in an effort to protect them, lawmakers in the U.K. see the practice as child abuse.
Experts say that breast ironing can cause a host of adverse conditions, including burns, infections, permanent damage of milk ducts and possibly cancer. Research also suggests that girls who are subjected to breast ironing suffer from psychological traumas, such as low self-esteem and feelings of inadequate femininity. But breast ironing does not stop breasts from eventually developing.
Advocates say that authorities in the U.K. are not devoting sufficient resources to protecting girls from the practice.
“It’s not only an issue of funding, it is also an issue of political will to tackle something that historically has been accepted as a cultural practice,” MP Maria Miller, who chairs a women’s and equalities committee in parliament, tells the Guardian.
Cawogido head Nyuydzewira, who underwent breast ironing when she was a girl, adds that officials may be reluctant to intervene precisely because breast ironing is regarded as a “cultural practice.”
“British people are so polite in the sense that when they see something like that, they think of cultural sensitivities,” she tells the Guardian. “But if it’s a cultural practice that is harming children … any harm that is done to a little girl, whether in public or in secrecy, that person should be held accountable.”
Read the full report at the Guardian.