Culture: Breast Ironing, The Unnatural African Practice Reserved For Girls

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Breast ironing, a traditional practice commonly done in Cameroon, is the use of hard or heated objects like a wooden pestle or scalding grinding stones to stop or slow the development of breasts in young girls.

Culture: Breast Ironing, The Unnatural African Practice Reserved For Girls
An Afrucan girl undergoing breast Ironing – Source: guardian.ng

According to Wikipedia, breast ironing is typically carried out by the girl’s mother to ‘protect’ the girl from sexual harassment and rape, prevent early pregnancy that would tarnish the family name and allow the girl to pursue education rather than be forced into early marriage.

The idea is that by removing their breast tissue, youngsters will be less sexually attractive and less likely to become pregnant at a young age, ­preventing them bringing shame on their families.

Breast ironing is mostly practiced in parts of Cameroon, where the perception by boys and men is that if a girls breasts have begun to grow’, she is ready for sex. The most widely used implement for breast ironing is a wooden pestle normally used for pounding tubers. This is followed by leaves, bananas, coconut shells, grinding stones, ladles, spatulas, and hammers heated over coals.

The practice has also been reported across West and Central Africa, in Benin, Chad, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea-Conakry, Kenya, Togo and lower down in Zimbabwe and even Britain.

The practice is especially profound in places like Douala, one of the most populous and largest cities in the cameroom.

Men in this area of the country strongly believe that teenage girls as low as 9 years whose breasts are developing are ripe for sex. In reaction , a mother who cares about her daughter and monitors her daughter’ s breast growth pounds the breast with hot objects such as a stone, hammer , an umbilical belt or a pestle so that it stops developing. This way, men will find her unattractive and she can pursue her education. True to their plans, pregnancy rate has reduced since 1996.

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Victim’s Story: One woman, who is remaining anonymous, told Sky News: “They put the spatula on the fire and then they press it on the breast and yes, it hurts.

“Then it goes weak, it’s like melting, fat melting and you can feel the breast going back… one of my breasts is bigger than the other one.”


This problem has been brought to light in other countries but remains an open secret in places where it is practiced and While the world cries out against the practice, a large majority of women in places where it is practiced are in support of the practice.

A teenage girl whose breasts are pressed with umbilical belt. Photo credit: Mirror

Breast Ironing Fact File: Barbaric, Widespread and Secret

Here are the stuffs we know about Breast Ironing.

Breast ironing is practised throughout Cameroon and has also been reported across West and Central Africa, in Benin, Chad, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea-Conakry, Kenya, Togo and Zimbabwe. In South Africa, a similar practice is known as “breast sweeping”.

• There are thought to be around four million victims in Cameroon, with four in 10 schoolgirls affected.

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• It is estimated that thousands of girls in African communities in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Luton, Nottingham, Leicester, Sheffield and Leeds may be exposed to the ritual, which usually happens in the family home.

• Breast ironing is both physically and psychologically damaging. It can cause infections and abscesses and has been linked to breast cancer, problems with breastfeeding, and severe depression.

• The UN estimates that 58 per cent of perpetrators are the victim’s mother.



Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.

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