A hidden form of abuse known as “breast ironing”, in which girls as young as 10 have their chests pounded with hot objects to disguise the onset of puberty, could be taking place in Britain.
The mutilation is a traditional practice from Cameroon designed to deter unwanted male attention, pregnancy and rape by delaying the signs that a girl is becoming a woman. Experts believe that the custom is being practiced amongst the several thousand Cameroonians now living here.
A conference on how to prevent the abuse both in the UK and overseas is being held today in Ealing, west London. Its organisers, a charity called CAME Women’s and Girl’s Development Organisation (Cawogido), is already working with the Met Police and social services to tackle the problem.
The Independent understands a woman was arrested two years ago in London because police believed she had performed the procedure on her daughter. She was later released without charge, although the Metropolitan Police was unable to confirm the report but the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said that the practice was known to them. An Acpo spokesman said: “Similarly to the way we deal with cases of female genital mutilation, we would treat this as a form of child abuse. Police would take steps to safeguard the child or young person and build a case of child abuse to put to the CPS for a decision on charging.”
The UN has identified breast ironing as one of five forgotten crimes against women and estimates that some 3.8 million teenagers are affected. As well as being painful, it exposes girls to health problems including abscesses, cysts, infection, tissue damage and even the disappearance of one or both breasts.
Read more: independent.co.uk