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Cameroonian girls, young women suffer the tortures of 'breast ironing'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 26th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A Medieval, barbaric practice known as "breast ironing" is widely practiced in Cameroon. As many as one in four girls are routinely tortured by female relatives in an ill-advised practice to keep them from inciting male lust.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The practice usually occurs during puberty. Female relatives of the young girl, sometimes even their own mothers, try to make their putative breasts disappear by crushing them. Families believe this "protects" the girls from experiencing their sexuality too soon.
 
Called the "ironing" or "massaging" of the breasts, as it is sometimes euphemistically called, has also been reported in Togo and Guinea.

"A lot of women become worried when their daughter reaches puberty around the age of eight or nine. They consider this to be too early," Executive Secretary of Renata Georgette Arrey Taky says. Renata is a national network of young mothers that teaches sexual education to Cameroonian women.
 
Breast ironing is widely practiced throughout Cameroon, particularly in the center and west of the country. This practice exists among the rich families -- as well as the poor.
 
"The reason why breast ironing is so rooted in our customs is because the mothers who endured it were told by their own mothers that it was to protect them. They therefore repeat the gesture to protect their own daughters. It's a vicious circle that survives through ignorance more than tradition," one survivor says.
 
Many mothers here are concerned when their daughter reaches puberty around the age of eight or nine. They consider this age to be too early and therefore believed that their daughter will attract boys and risk becoming pregnant too early.

Most of the girls are "massaged" when they are 15 or 16 years old. By making their breasts disappear, the mothers believe they can control the girls' effect on men. Dispelling this belief very quickly is the fact that very young mothers also sport ironed breasts. 

Women's rights groups are working to convince parents that effective sex education can only be achieved through dialogue.
 
"Women, usually mothers or aunts, use spatulas, stones and even pestles," one activist says.
 
Spatulas, stones or even pestles are heated up and struck against the developing breast. The strike leads to burns as well as infections and cysts. The long-term consequences are no less detrimental.

According to a few specialists, the victims are more susceptible to breast cancer. Damaged breasts become the source of body image issues. "I met a girl who doesn't even dare to take her clothes off in front of her friends," one activist says.

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