Monday, June 26, 2006

A nationwide campaign is under way in Cameroon to discourage the widespread practice of breast ironing

Randy Joe Sa'ah:

This involves pounding and massaging the developing breasts of young girls with hot objects to try to make them disappear.

Statistics show that 26% of Cameroonian girls at puberty undergo it, as many mothers believe it protects their daughters from the sexual advances of boys and men who think children are ripe for sex once their breasts begin to grow.

The most widely used instrument to flatten the breasts is a wooden pestle, used for pounding tubers in the kitchen. Heated bananas and coconut shells are also used.

Student Geraldin Sirri recounted her painful experience.

"My mother took a pestle, she warmed it well in the fire and then she used it to pound my breasts while I was lying down. She took the back of a coconut, warmed it in the fire and used it to iron the breasts.

"I was crying and trembling to escape but there was no way."

Another woman from Mamfe in south-west Cameroon told me she ironed her own breasts as a girl so that she would not be forced into early marriage as is the practice in her village.

"I wanted to go to school like other girls who had no breasts," Emilia said.

Many mothers have no regrets about ironing their daughter's breasts.

"Breast ironing is not a new thing. I am happy I protected my daughter. I could not stand the thought of boys spoiling her with sex before she completed school," one woman explained.

"Unfortunately, television is encouraging all sorts of sexual immorality in our children."

Anthropologist Dr Flavien Ndonko says that breast ironing is not an effective method of preventing early sex and pregnancies because many of the girls still become pregnant. He recommends plain talking between parents and their daughters.

Breast-ironing: Cameroon's painful secret


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