Cameroon: Breast Ironing Traumatizing Girls

A study found that one in four girls in Cameroon are forced to have breast ironing in order to prevent teenage pregnancy. Terisia Techu is one of them. From when she was nine, she undergoes a painful procedure every morning before school. Her mother would take a burning hot pestle straight out of a fire and use it to press her breasts.

Now 18 and still traumatized, she relates the story with tears in her eyes as she recalls what it was like. She said one day the pestle was so hot, it burned her, leaving a mark.

Her mother, Grace, denies the burn incident, but she proudly demonstrates the method she used on her daughter for several weeks, saying the goal was to make her less desirable to boys and stave off pregnancy.

The U.S. State Department, in its 2010 human rights report on Cameroon, cited news reports that breast ironing “victimized numerous girls in the country” and in some cases “resulted in burns, deformities, and psychological problems.”

Breast ironing is practiced by all of over 200 ethnic groups in Cameroon with different norms and customs. Some mothers use hot stones or coconut shells to flatten their daughters’ breasts.

Doctors believe improved diets have resulted in young Cameroonian girls going through puberty early. Many of them are also becoming pregnant early.

Despite her mother’s precautions, Terisia became pregnant at 15, but her child died at birth. She said breast ironing doesn’t work. She hates the practice and wishes her mother had instead talked to her about sex and pregnancy prevention.

Grace Techu, the mother, argues that if it weren’t for the breast ironing, Terisia would have become pregnant at a much younger age.

She has four daughters, and she used the procedure on the first two. The third avoided it because her breasts are growing at an acceptable rate, she says, and the fourth girl is still too young.

Mothers who want their children to finish school before becoming parents have resorted to this drastic measure, and many see nothing wrong with it.

In 2006, a German nongovernmental organization exposed the practice, which at the time was done mainly in secret. Now, charities have embarked on campaigns to educate mothers in Cameroon that sex education, not breast ironing, is the solution to ending teenage pregnancy.

Dr Sinou Tchana, a gynecologist in Cameroon, has seen breast glands that were destroyed. She also saw one case of cancer, though she says it couldn’t be established whether the ironing caused or only made the cancer worse. “One mother came with secondary burns because the stone she was using to do this breast ironing burned her,” she said.

One of Tchana’s patients is a 23-year-old whose scars are still painful 14 years after her breasts were ironed. She has joined the effort to confront mothers about the effects of their actions.

The challenge for all those trying to stop the practice is reaching parents like Techu in villages before a ritual that they say is motivated by love shatters more lives.

  1. EYAM ODEY Reply

    Terrible practice… to me its even worse than circumcision… God help us all!

  2. Vicky Reply

    Illiteracy is a disease…

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