A campaign in Cameroon is calling attention to a tradition said to be potentially harmful to young girls: breast ironing. Nearly a quarter of Cameroonian women are said to have experienced the practice – whereby heavy or hot objects are placed on a young girls breasts in an effort to keep them from growing. Many well-intentioned mothers believe it prevents the on-set of puberty, and may prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Dr. Robinson Mbu is an obstetrician gynecologist at Cameroon’ s principal maternity in Yaoundé. Concerned about possible dangerous after-effects, English to Africa reporter Angel Tabe asked him more about the unusual practice of breast ironing. “ Breast ironing, from what we understand, is a practice where during the period when the breasts start (developing)… before puberty, some people believe that when you use hot water… a warm spoon… and massage the breasts, they will either shrink or not develop the way they are supposed to.”
Dr. Mbu clarifies that the practice is not common among educated communities. “ It is something that is done on the level of the villages, because there is no woman who’s gone to school who would use anything hot on the child’s breasts. When you know the development of a young girl, from nine ten years that is very normal.”
Although no scientific studies have been carried out to establish the effects of breast ironing, Dr. Mbu talks of possible immediate dangers. “ Most likely, you may burn the skin under the breasts, the structures just below the skin under the breasts…but I know that they don’t use objects that are very hot.”
Concluding that the practice is not beneficial, the doctor advises that it be discontinued. “I would say it has no advantage. It is not the size of the breast that makes a woman… it’s a practice that should be discouraged completely, whether people have gone to school, because it has no benefits.”
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