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Barbaric practice of 'breast ironing' still practiced in Cameroon

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

"Breast ironing," where a young girl's putative breasts are ironed with heated rocks or steel is a barbaric practice in the Cameroon. Mothers do it to their young daughters in an attempt to prevent them from having premarital sex. There has been a 50 percent decline in the practice since 2005 - but the practice continues on in secret.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - breast ironing came to the world's attention when it was accidentally discovered in 2005, in a survey by the German Technical Cooperation Agency on rape and incest in Cameroon.

An awareness campaign in schools, churches and across media outlets drew attention to the harmful physical and psychological consequences. In spite of the increased consciousness, 1.3 million girls remain victims of the brutal practice today.

"[My daughter] started developing breasts very early and she was becoming attractive. I wanted to guard her childhood and protect her from men," a Cameroon mother says.

The mother admits to having her daughter when she "was just 14, but her father was never around. It was a really hard time for me and I didn't want the same thing to happen to my only girl."

The brutal practice was in vain, as her daughter was raped by an uncle when she was 13. A year later, she started having sex with a classmate. At 16, she gave birth to her first child. The baby was six weeks premature and died a few hours later.

Cameroon remains the only country where thorough research has been carried out on breast ironing. The practice is widespread across the region and among the West African diaspora, including in Western countries with stringent child-protection laws.

"We Africans take our culture everywhere we go, so I am sure it is happening in Britain and America too," Margaret Nyuydzewira, who was born in Bamenda in northwest Cameroon says. Nyuydzewira co-founded CAWOGIDO, an organization that campaigns against breast ironing in Britain, where 9,600 Cameroonians reside.

She said a couple of cases of breast ironing had been reported in Birmingham and London over the past few years. The prevalence is probably much higher.

"People within the practicing community know that it is happening, but it is hidden and done at home. It's like FGM (female genital mutilation) - you know it's going on, but you will never see anyone doing it," she said.

"It's happening in Nigeria, in Burkina Faso, in Chad, in CAR (Central African Republic) and other countries in the region too. They just call it a different name in their local language," she said.



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