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What Is Breast Ironing?

Breast ironing is the practice of pounding and massaging the breasts of a girl in puberty with heated objects. The aim of breast ironing is to hinder the development of the breasts or even make them disappear. Breast ironing is carried out - usually by the mother, but sometimes by the girl as well - in an effort to send out the message that the girl is not “available” for sex or marriage yet. The rationale is that undeveloped breasts will help protect the girl and give her a chance to pursue education rather than getting trapped in an unwanted pregnancy or marriage.

As of 2006, it was reported that breast ironing was still considered normal practices in Cameroon - all 10 regions of it. Traditionally, breast ironing can be done as early as eight or nine years old.

Breast ironing is effective in retarding the development of one’s mammary glands, but it does have extremely hazardous health consequences. You can only imagine just how painful this procedure is. More than the pain, however, breast tissue is damaged and can result in conditions such as breast cancer and depression. (Although, as of 2006, no conclusive research has been conducted as to the specific health consequences of breast ironing.)

The international community, once made aware of this practice, has reacted to breast ironing. Advocacy groups have launched campaigns aimed at terminating the practice. They have also proposed other means to change the mentality towards early marriages, as well as programs to help deal with sexual assault, which is another commonly used reason for breast ironing.

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