Breast ironing is a practice of the pounding and massaging of a pubescent girl’s breasts using heated objects, in an attempt to make them stop developing or disappear.
The UN says that 3.8 million West and Central African girls are at risk of breast ironing. The "ironing" involves massaging a child’s growing breasts with an object like a stone, hammer or spatula that has been heated over coals, until the breasts actually disappear.
The practice of breast ironing is usually a well-kept secret between a young girl and her mother — the father often remains completely unaware of it. The UNFPA reports girls believe what their mothers are doing is for their own good, and keep silent.
The UNFPA reports the practice is now inflicted upon 24 percent of all Cameroonian women as young as the age of 9, which represents one girl in every four. A 2006 survey estimated that 4 million women had already undergone breast ironing in Cameroon where the practice is most widespread. 50% of adolescent girls in cities and a quarter of all girls nationwide have their breasts ‘ironed".
A report entitled Female Genital Mutilation in Cameroon which was released by the German government’s aid and development agency GTZ in 2009 stated;
Breast ironing is found more frequently in the cities than in rural areas (affecting 53 % of girls in Douala for instance). The background appears to be the fear that the girls’ growing breasts will attract the sexual interest of men and that they might thus become victims of sexual advances at an early age. The practice is intended to protect girls from teenage pregnancies and the social consequences thereof. The extremely painful procedure is repeated every day, until it has the desired results. The consequences are damaged tissue, open wounds, abscesses, infections, an elevated cancer risk, and in later life difficulties with breastfeeding and trauma.
Despite western media outlets having reported widely on this subject from time to time the practice is still relatively unknown to the general public. (BBC News Sydney Morning Herald Washington Post LATimes )
The disfigurement suffered by these girls lasts a life time.