UNFPA

Press Release Archive

Breast Ironing- One of Five Under Reported Crimes
In Commemoration of 16 Day of Activism
Against Gender Based Violence

November 29, 2006

New York, NY - One of five under-reported crimes is breast ironing. One in four girls in Cameroon is a victim of breast ironing, a practice meant to deter sexual attention and pregnancy before marriage. At the on-set of puberty, mothers use hot coals, a spatula, hammer, stones and hands to massage and stunt the growth of young girls breasts. Girls are also forced to wear heated bandages around their chests.

In commemoration of the International Day Against Violence Against Women, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund unveils breast ironing as a human rights violation that must be stopped.

Breast ironing has been found prevalent in Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Chad, Togo, Benin, and Guinea-Conakry. A survey of 5000 girls and women aged 10 to 82 from Cameroon estimated that 4 million women had suffered from breast ironing. Most suffered in silence; the ironing completed in secrecy between a daughter and her mother or close relative.

Breast ironing is an attempt to prevent men from being attracted to these young women, to discourage girls from perusing men and to reduce the risk of pregnancy. It's consequences include numerous health problems including cysts, infections, tissue damage and the complete disappearance of one or both breasts.

"Breast ironing is a silent, secret tradition that must be eradicated," says Anika Rahman, President, Americans for UNFPA. "Its psychological consequences are lethal and its impact on the heath and dignity of women is tumultuous."

Breast ironing is a violation of personal integrity committed often by a trusted family member, says Obaid. We need to help young girls know that they do not need to endure such pain; we need to hold family members accountable for this crime and bring it to an end.

Little dialogue exists in sexual education for girls; rather breast ironing is the hopeful deterrent to early pregnancy. Statistics confirm that in addition to being a human rights violation, the practice is ineffective in deterring pre-marital pregnancy. One-third of unwanted pregnancies occur between the ages of 13 and 25, with more than half falling pregnant after their first sexual encounter. 1

November 25th marks the beginning of "Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence" an international campaign to shed light on the prevalence of violence and call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women. The campaign commences on December 10th, International Human Rights Day, symbolically linking violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights.

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1 GTZ survey Jan 2006