Caroline Wheeler, Express, November 9, 2014
Schools have been put on alert over a sickening form of abuse known as breast ironing in which girls as young as 10 have their chests pounded with hot objects to disguise the onset of puberty.
The mutilation, a traditional practice in the west African republic of Cameroon, aims to deter unwanted male attention, pregnancy and rape by delaying the signs that a girl is becoming a woman.
Experts believe the custom is being practised among the several thousand Cameroonians living in Britain. Schools are training staff to look out for signs of the barbaric practice. The move follows heightened awareness of female genital mutilation.
Campaigners want to see the same prominence given to other forms of cultural abuse, such as breast ironing. Margaret Nyuydzewira, co-founder of the charity CAME Women’s And Girl’s Development Organisation, says authorities need to take action faster than they have on stopping FGM in the UK.
She told the Sunday Express: “It is vitally important that people who have a direct involvement with children have an eye on this issue. Children can much more easily open up to teachers, which is why schools must play an important role in raising awareness.”
Tory MP Graham Stuart, chairman of the education select committee, said: “It’s good that earlier this year the Department for Education issued new guidance to schools on how to keep children safe.
“Only by increasing awareness of this particular form of abuse will schools be able to look out for its symptoms. FGM was illegal years ago but it was only when public awareness grew that effective action began.
“The Government should not wait for public outrage to trigger action against breast ironing when it can and should do something about it now.”
The United Nations has identified breast ironing as one of five forgotten crimes against women and estimates some 3.8 million teenagers are victims.
As well as being excruciatingly painful, it exposes girls to problems, including abscesses, cysts, infection, tissue damage and even the disappearance of one or both breasts.
A victim, who did not want to be named, said: “My mother placed a pestle on the fire and then applied it to the two growing breasts on my chest. The process is very painful. She did it over again for about five months.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Breast ironing is child abuse and constitutes a crime. We produced updated guidance for schools on keeping children safe from all forms of abuse. The Secretary of State wrote to schools to alert them to this new guidance.”