Today I watched a shocking and painful documentary about breast ironing in Cameroon. I watched with disgust as mothers pounded and massaged the developing breasts of unwilling young girls with hot objects to try to make them disappear.
I was surprised to learn that this practice is more widespread than I previously thought. It affects as many as one in four girls, according to local health activists, 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. Some mothers massage hot grinding-stones into their daughters' chests, while others pound the tissue with heated plantain peels. Sometimes, women rub kerosene or medicinal herbs on adolescent breasts.
What on earth would drive a mother to press a hot stone into her daughter's chest? Despite the pain and fear, many of the women and girls in the documentary considered it a normal treatment for early breast development. Mothers believe they forcibly try to eliminate signs of puberty to protect their preteen girls from HIV and pregnancy. One mother explained that she did it out of love.
Breast ironing is not an effective method of preventing early sex and pregnancies because many of the girls still become pregnant. I consider this practice blatant violation of human rights of these young girls. It could even hurt a girl’s self-esteem later in life. These mothers need to be educated and taught the skills to openly discuss sex issues with their daughters at home. Schools also need to include sex education in their curriculum. These measures I believe will help relieve these poor girls from unnecessary pain and anguish.