An African practice of “ironing” a girl’s chest with a hot stone to delay breast formation is spreading in the UK, with anecdotal evidence of dozens of recent cases, a Guardian investigation has established.
Community workers in London, Yorkshire, Essex and the West Midlands have told the Guardian of cases in which pre-teen girls from the diaspora of several African countries are subjected to the painful, abusive and ultimately futile practice.
Margaret Nyuydzewira, head of the diaspora group the Came Women and Girls Development Organisation (Cawogido), estimated that at least 1,000 women and girls in the UK had been subjected to the intervention. There has been no systematic study or formal data collection exercise.
Another community activist, who did not wish to be named, said she was aware of 15-20 recent cases in Croydon alone.
“It’s usually done in the UK, not abroad like female genital mutilation (FGM),” she said, describing a practice whereby mothers, aunties or grandmothers use a hot stone to massage across the breast repeatedly in order to “break the tissue” and slow its growth.
“Sometimes they do it once a week, or once every two weeks, depending on how it comes back,” she added.
The perpetrators, usually mothers, consider it a traditional measure which protects girls from unwanted male attention, sexual harassment and rape. Medical experts and victims regard it as child abuse which could lead to physical and psychological scars, infections, inability to breastfeed, deformities and breast cancer.
The United Nations describes it as one of five global under-reported crimes relating to gender-based violence.
One woman living in the suburbs of an English city told the Guardian how she went about ironing her daughter’s chest at the first sign of puberty.
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