British woman reveals how her mother ‘ironed her breasts’ when she was 13 to make her ‘ugly so no one will admire me’
- Up to 1,000 women and girls in Britain feared to have undergone procedure
- Practice sees chests pressed down with hot stone to delay breast formation
- She said: ‘It’s really an abuse. It dehumanises you – you are not a human being’
- National Education Union wants awareness to be added to school curriculum
A woman has revealed how her mother ironed her breasts aged 13 after discovering she was gay, amid calls for awareness of the practice to be taught in UK schools.
The victim, named only as ‘Simone’, is among up to 1,000 women and girls in Britain feared to have undergone the painful and dangerous procedure.
The practice involves their chests being pressed down with a hot stone to delay breast formation amid a belief it will protect them from male attention.
The practice of breast ironing involves a girl’s chest being pressed down with a hot stone to delay breast formation. A girl who suffered the procedure is pictured in Cameroon in May 2007
Simone told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that her mother hoped a flat chest would make her daughter ‘ugly and no one will admire me’.
She said: ‘It’s really an abuse. It dehumanises you – you are not a human being. They hold your hands and then they press on your breast. It really hurts.
‘Imagine a hot object on your bare body and when you’re going out you have this stripe that they can tie on your breast. At times you find difficulty in breathing.’
Simone was left with long-term damage, meaning milk did not flow normally when breastfeeding a child she had with a husband she was forced to marry.
This stone pictured in Cameroon in May 2007 has been used to iron the breasts of four girls after being heated in the oven. The practice of breast ironing in the country is common
The ritual is thought to be mainly carried out by mothers and grandmothers from African countries, with concerns mounting over it taking place in the UK.
What is breast ironing?
Female relatives of a pre-pubescent girl will use hot stones to massage her breast tissue in an attempt to stunt its growth, and then repeat the practice as often as once a week.
The perpetrators consider it a traditional practice that protects girls from unwanted male attention, sexual harassment and rape.
But experts regard it as a form of abuse that could lead to psychological damage as well as physical injuries including infections, the inability to breastfeed, deformities and even breast cancer.
Another victim, Kinaya, said she suffered breast ironing aged ten after her mother told her that, otherwise, ‘men will start coming to you, to have sex with you’.
She told the programme: ‘You’re not even allowed to cry out. If you do, you (are said to) have brought shame to your family, you are not a ‘strong girl’.’
The National Education Union is now urging that breast ironing awareness is included in the compulsory school curriculum to protect girls from abuse.
Its joint president Kiri Tunks also said that school staff and especially PE teachers should to be taught how to notice the signs of the procedure.
Conservative MP Nicky Morgan has backed the proposals, saying teachers must be able to advise any girls affected on what action they need to take.
Community workers in London, Yorkshire, Essex and the Midlands previously told the Guardian that pre-teen girls from the migrant communities of several African countries had undergone breast ironing.
Conservative MP Nicky Morgan (pictured on March 13) has backed proposals for breast ironing awareness to be included in the compulsory school curriculum to protect girls from abuse
One activist claimed to knew of up to 20 recent cases in Croydon alone, and said: ‘It’s usually done in the UK, not abroad like FGM (female genital mutilation).’
Anti-FGM campaigner Leyla Hussein said she had spoken to five women in her North London clinic who were all British citizens and had suffered the procedure.
And nurse Jennifer Miraj said she had seen more than 20 confirmed cases, including a ten-year-old girl who had developed an infection from the practice.
Law on female genital mutiliation and the first conviction in Britain
More than 200 million girls and women are estimated to have experienced female genital mutilation (FGM), a life-threatening procedure that involves the partial or total removal of a woman’s external genitalia.
Girls aged 14 and younger represent 44million of those who have been cut, most commonly in Gambia, Mauritania and Indonesia. The procedure is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and 15.
Once girls have been cut, they are deemed ready for marriage and taken out of school – but FGM causes health problems and can be fatal.
A Ugandan mother who became the first person convicted under FGM laws froze ox tongue (inset) with screws embedded in them aimed at silencing police in the case
It is practised by Muslim and Christian communities in some countries, but it is not mentioned in the Koran or Bible.
The practice is illegal in Britain, but around 137,000 girls from the UK are thought to be taken to countries that still perform the procedure. It remains legal in Chad, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan.
Earlier this month a mother in Britain was jailed for 13 years after becoming the first person to be convicted of FGM.
The 37-year-old Ugandan woman from East London was convicted of cutting her three-year-old daughter and telling her to lie to the authorities.
She ordered the toddler to tell police she injured herself when she fell on to a cupboard door after climbing up on to a work surface to get some biscuits.
Investigators discovered she used black magic spells involving cow’s tongues and limes to target police and medical experts.
She was jailed at the Old Bailey on March 8 – International Women’s Day.