New York: At a time when the world is striving for gender equality, 3.8 million women around the globe right now are affected by a brutal practice known as ‘breast ironing’, which involves flattening a young girl's developing chest, ‘to protect her from rape and sexual harassment'.
The number was quoted by a UN report, according to which the practice is widely spread in West African countries such as Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Chad, Togo, Benin, and Guinea-Conakry but also occurs in some regions of East and Central Africa. In Cameroon, up to 50% of girls as young as 10 years old undergo terribly painful breast ironing on a daily basis.
Breast ironing has been stated by UNFPA as one of five under-reported crimes relating to gender-based violence.
It is a traditional barbaric practice, where the breasts of a young girl is usually pressed using a stone, hammer or even a spatula that has been heated over hot coals in order to stop their development.
What is terrifying is that in most cases, this crime is perpetrated by the mother of the young child and the girls are made to believe that it is for their good - to protect them from being raped and to facilitate their education.
Elders who follow this practice reason that breast ironing saves girls from getting unwanted male attention and helps in preventing teenage pregnancies. But many believe that this practice does not deter sexual activity.
Experts believe that breast ironing is just like FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and is a form of hidden child abuse.
Breast ironing is not just traumatic and painful for a young girl, but it also destroys a girl's womanhood and makes one prone to many risks. It exposes girls to various health problems like infections, cancer, permanent tissue damage and may even end the development of the breast completely.
UN Women London branch has been working towards raising awareness against thir brutal tradition and the impact it has on the lives of young girls physically, emotionally and psychologically.