Breast Ironing

last updated June 2010

What Is Breast Ironing?
Breast ironing is a practice, often performed by a mother, in which the breasts of pubescent girls are pounded using tools such as spatulas, grinding stones, hot stones, and hammers, as a means of delaying their development and protecting girls from rape and other types of unwanted male attention.
Effects of Breast Ironing
Contrary to the beliefs of its proponents, this practice has not stopped girls from becoming sexually active or becoming the victims of sexual violence. Instead, the practice has led to an inability to produce breast milk, cysts, lesions, and to the development of cancer in young women. The practice is painful for those who experience it and often results in the destruction of breast tissue, making girls vulnerable to breast infection, itching, and abscesses.
Prevalence of Breast Ironing
A pilot study showed that this practice is found in parts of Guinea Bissau, Chad, Togo, and Benin, but appears to be most prevalent in Cameroon where it occurs in the country’s 10 provinces with an estimated 24% of girls experiencing it. The study also showed that in the province of Littoral, 53% of the girls and women reported having experienced breast ironing and approximately 60% of all breast ironing cases were performed by the victim’s mother.