|A worker with some of the tools used for FGM in Africa|
In a small, bamboo-roofed kitchen behind the house, Grace remembers, Mama performed this procedure day after day for three months. Grace’s older brother would hold her legs so she couldn’t run away. And then, still reeling from the ordeal, Grace would be sent along to elementary school.
I met Grace, who is now 16, in this southern Nigerian town where she had traveled across the Cameroonian border to buy fabric for her mother’s sewing business. She said she is permanently scarred and still suffers from the trauma. She said her mother told her the goal was to make her less desirable to boys, and thus to kill any chance of her getting pregnant early.
Grace became pregnant at the age of 15, but sadly lost her child during childbirth.
She said breast ironing is even more painful than childbirth, and that it did nothing to prevent her from getting pregnant before marriage.
“The whole practice was useless after all..Rather than teach, breast ironing kills. My mother should have taught me sex education, rather she let this evil practice devastate me.
And Grace is not alone. The tradition of “breast ironing” has gone on for years in Cameroon, and appears to be spreading among parents who hope to keep their daughters out of the hands of Boko Haram’s brutal jihadists. Maryam, a Cameroonian hairdresser now based in Ikom, said she had practiced breast ironing on two of her daughters, added that other methods can also be used in the practice
The process of breast ironing requires the use of any metal, including wooden sticks, pestles, spatulas, spoons and rocks,. “The heat from these tools is expected to melt the fat on the breast, and stop it from projecting.Most people prefer to wrap very tight elastic bandages around the chest of their daughters overnight, but that system usually keeps the girls very uncomfortable,” she said. “For my daughters, I used hot coconut shells or heated stones to flatten their breasts.”
One Cameroonian mother, who recently began breast ironing on her daughter, told me in Ikom, where she came to buy goods, that she was carrying out the practice in an attempt to make her child less attractive to Boko Haram members who have been abducting adolescent girls and forcing them into marriage.
“I live in Tiko in the southwest but my daughter schools in Maroua in the far north where terrible things happen, and I won’t take chances,” she said. “If they [Boko Haram] don’t see her breast, they won’t think she has come of age.”
Another Cameroonian lady who was in Ikom for trade said she and her sister carried out breast ironing on each of their two daughters, because militants were abducting girls in Maroua where they lived.
“We didn’t want our daughters to be taken to the Sambisa forest,” the lady who gave her name as Agathe said. “It wasn’t just us. Many women did it on their daughters for the same reason.”
Musa Oumarou another of Cameroon’s hundreds of traders visiting Ikom daily.
“I visited a compound in Mokolo where every girl had undergone the procedure,” “A woman whose daughter narrowly escaped Boko Haram capture started the procedure on her lucky child and then convinced her neighbors to carry out the same act on their daughters.”
The United Nations says breast ironing now affects 3.8 million women around the world. While the U.S. human rights report suggested reports of the practice are “rare,” the local press in Cameroon has reported that up to 50 percent of girls undergo the very painful procedure on a daily basis.
Analysts say breast ironing was initially done by women with the thought of improving a mother’s breast milk. But the thought later changed when rape and teenage pregnancy became rampant. Mothers began to carry out the procedure on their girls as they believed that their daughters’ breasts would expose them to the risk of sexual harassment and early pregnancies.
Culled from the Daily Beast