UK: Dozens of girls subjected to breast ironing. But why?
An investigation by Guardian has revealed the African practice of ironing breasts has found its way in the United Kingdom and dozens of pre-teen girls have been subjected to it. As part of this inhuman practice, perpetrators, usually the girl's mother or aunts, run hot stone on her chest to delay breast formation. They believe this can 'divert' male attention. Here's all about it.
The victims are girls aged between 9 and 15. About the practice, the United Nations said once, "It is often done by the victim's own family under the "misguided intention" of protecting her from rape and sexual harassment." A 2016 report claimed that nearly 3.8 million girls were affected by breast-ironing across the world and especially in countries like Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Chad, and Togo.
The most plausible explanation is migration. When Africans left their homes, fleeing famine and drought, they brought some of their traditions with them. The 'tradition' has been termed as child abuse by experts. Apart from psychological trauma, this can also stop victims from breastfeeding. It could also lead to breast cancer or other deformities. The good news is that social activists are taking note.
Margaret Nyuydzewira, head of diaspora group Came Women and Girls Development Organization (Cawogido), told Guardian that as many as 1,000 girls in UK have been targeted in this practice. However, there is no official data. Another activist said she knew of 15-20 recent cases in Croydon alone. "It's usually done in the UK, not abroad like female genital mutilation (FGM)," the unnamed activist added.
The tale of the victims highlighted in the report was distressing. Psychotherapist Leyla Hussein said she had spoken to at least 5 women in North London itself. One of them said she had a "boy's chest". Jennifer Miraj, a nurse who worked at various hospitals in London, said she saw the numbers grow in the recent years. She once nursed a 10-year-old who got infected.
While the report proves breast-ironing is very much happening, those who are actively working in this area believe the police isn't doing much. Alex Carlile, a former judge, was shocked that the government had not allocated funds to tackle this menace. However, Conservative MP Maria Miller said more than funds it was a political issue since it is deeply rooted in tradition.
Notably, in 2016, MP Jake Berry discussed the 'abhorrent practice' in the House of Commons and had said the government is absolutely committed to eradicating this mess. Explaining the process, he had said hot stones are rubbed on the chest, sometimes twice a week, to destroy the tissue. He had said this practice, like female genital mutilation, has no place in the society.
Despite the abuse being rampant, no one in the UK has been persecuted due to breast-ironing. Like the Guardian report pointed out, a woman who ironed her daughter's breasts was questioned but released with a caution. Berry had added the government needs to work with hospitals. He added reporting should be made mandatory to shed light on this. But talks never took off.
It has been more than two years since Berry's impassioned speech but the activists feel nothing has changed on the ground. Nyuydzewira, who herself is a victim, said the Britsh think of it as a 'cultural practice'. But it if it's a cultural practice that is harming a little girl "whether in public or in secrecy, that person should be held accountable".