Breast Ironing: Ghanaian Girl Recounts Her Painful ‘Breast Ironing’ Childhood Experience

Breast ironing

Breast ironing is regarded as a form of violence that takes place in certain parts of West Africa. According to people who have studied the phenomenon, it is a violent practice which is forced upon young girls and boys who have just entered puberty, and is mostly performed by mothers.

Recently, civil society organizations have begun highlighting this issue with many claiming it is almost as awful as Female Genital Mutilation – the practice of cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia.

In Ghana, a number of people also believe this practice is widespread where young girls especially, are forced to undergo this practice in order to have smaller boobs.

One girl who was put through this practice of Breast Ironing is Shirley, this is not her real name but for her request to remain anonymous, we would call her Shirley for the purpose of this article.

Shirley told in an interview that the practice of breast ironing was common in her family as just like her, her older sisters and cousin were also subject to the practice.

“Mine started in my early teenage years when I started developing breast very early. I had my period when I was 9 years old so my breast started developing very fast and they were quite big too,” Shirley told in an interview.

“My mother thought it was not right for a girl my age to be developing such big breasts as mine, so she used “Tapoli”, the wooden grinder that is used to grind pepper in an earthenware bowl, to hit my developing breast almost every day till I got to the Junior High School.”

Shirley said her breast ironing practise was an afternoon ritual which happened every day after she returns home from school.

“Sometimes, I would be dull in class becauase of the pain I was going through from all that hiting on my breast,” she said.

“At the time, I thought it was normal for every girl to experience it as part of the growing up process since I have seen my own sisters and cousin also go through the same thing.”

According to Shirley, her cousin was in a lot of pain when she was going through her own breast ironing process. Though she claims her cousin’s breast did become smaller, “it started growing big again a few months later,” Shirley added.

As a result, there was no real gain for subjecting them to years of continuously hitting on their breast with the aim of making them smaller.

Shirley says another reason her mother considered before she put her and her sisters through breast ironing was her fear of them becoming sexually attractive to men at their young age.

Shirley told us about how men would look at her differently when she’s with her friends because she was developing a breast and they weren’t. Her mother’s fear of them becoming a sexual muse to men influenced her decision to make sure that she does what she thought was best at the time to delay her children’s development.

However, Shirley told that she would not subject her own daughter to breast ironing if she started developing as early as she did.

“It was very uncomfortable and I wouldn’t do that to my daughter, but if my son ever starts to develop big breast, I wouldn’t hesitate to put him on a breast ironing schedule,” Shirley said.

“I know my ex-boyfriend, who now has relatively large breast for a guy, was also subjected to breast ironing when he was a little boy,” Shirley recounted.

This traditional practice, which seeks to delay a girl’s development, has been declared a form of child abuse in the United Kingdom.

It was ruled a crime after evidence surfaced that it is being practised in the UK by some members of African communities.

Meanwhile, in Ghana, there is no clear legal provision that specifically criminalizes breast ironing practice.

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