Hundreds Of Girls Subjected To 'Breast Ironing' In Britain To Prevent Unwanted Male Attention

A protester takes part in the Third Annual Women's March LA in downtown Los Angeles, California on January 19, 2019. A new report has shone a light on cases of breast ironing in Britain. VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty

Dozens of girls in Britain have been forced to undergo "breast ironing," a practice where girls' chests are ironed with a hot stone to delay breast formation, a new report has revealed.

Community workers in London and in Yorkshire, Essex and the West Midlands told British newspaper The Guardian that they have seen numerous cases where pre-teen girls from the diaspora of several African countries have been subjected to the painful practice, which is intended to prevent unwanted male attention.

Margaret Nyuydzewira, head of the diaspora group the Came Women and Girls Development Organization (Cawogido) said an estimated 1,000 women and girls had been found to have been forced to undergo the procedure. However, the Guardian noted that there has been no formal data collection on incidents of the practice.

British-Somali anti-female genital mutilation (FGM) campaigner and psychotherapist Leyla Hussein told the newspaper that she had spoken to five women in her north London clinic who had been victims of breast ironing.

"They were all British women, all British citizens," Hussein said. One patient said told the psychotherapist that she had "a boys' chest" as a result of the flattening, but "no one had physically checked her" or "questioned her about it." "This was in north London, just down the road," Hussein told the Guardian.

Breast ironing, also known as breast flattening, usually starts with the first signs of puberty, which can mean that girls as young as nine-year-old are being subjected to the practice, according to Britain's National FGM Center.

The practice is typically carried out by female relatives, including children's mothers. While it is considered child abuse by medical protectioners and rights organizations, in many cases, abusers believe that they are helping their children by making girls look less "womanly," which they believe will make them less vulnerable to unwanted attention and sexual assault, the National FGM Center states.

It adds that many who carry out the practice believe it will "enable the girl to continue her education" and "prevent dishonor being brought upon the family if the girl begins sexual relations outside of marriage."

In some families, large stones, a hammer or a spatula can be used, with the object being heated over scorching coals before being applied to compress breast tissue, according to the National FGM Center. Other families opt to use an elastic belt or binder instead in a bid to pevent breasts from growing.

"Due to the type of instruments that may be used, the type of force and the lack of aftercare, significant health and developmental issue may occur," the National FGM Center states, with potential outcomes including tissue damage, infection, the formation of abscesses and cysts, discharge of milk and "even the complete disappearance of one or both breasts."

"There will also be an impact on the child's social and psychological well-being," the FGM center notes.

While there is no specific law within Britain around breast ironing or flattening, the FGM center states that it is a clear form of physical abuse. It advises anyone concerned that a child may have undergone or may be at risk of being forced to undergo the procedure, to refer to their local safeguarding procedures.

Met Police Inspector Allen Davis told the Guardian that they have not received allegations about breast-ironing in Britain, but do suspect that it is happening.

"If I knew it was happening, I would do something about it," Davis said, adding: "Prosecutions are really important...People have to recognise these practices for what they are–child abuse."