Every morning before school, nine-year-old Terisia Techu would undergo a painful procedure. Her mother would take a burning hot pestle straight out of a fire and use it to press her breasts.
With tears in her eyes as she recalls what it was like, Terisia tells CNN that one day the pestle was so hot, it burned her, leaving a mark. Now 18, she is still traumatized.
Her mother, Grace, denies the incident. But she proudly demonstrates the method she used on her daughter for several weeks, saying the goal was to make her less desirable to boys–and stave off pregnancy.
A study found that one in four girls in Cameroon have been affected by the practice.
The U.S. State Department, in its 2010 human rights report on Cameroon, cited news reports and said breast ironing “victimized numerous girls in the country” and in some cases “resulted in burns, deformities, and psychological problems.”
There are more than 200 ethnic groups in Cameroon with different norms and customs. Breast ironing is practiced by all of them.
Some mothers use hot stones or coconut shells to flatten their daughters’ breasts.
Techu has four daughters, and she used the procedure on the first two. The third avoided it because her breasts are growing at an acceptable rate, Techu says, and the fourth girl is still too young.
Mothers who want their children to finish school before becoming parents have resorted to this drastic measure, and many see nothing wrong with it.
Now, charities have embarked on campaigns to educate mothers in Cameroon that sex education–not breast ironing–is the solution to ending teenage pregnancy.