The report included claims that the brutal practice is spreading, with an estimated 1,000 girls being affected. This month, according to the Guardian, the Home Office released a parliamentary written statement pledging to actively stop “honor-based” abuse –– moving forward, police will prosecute offenders under assault laws.
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Breast ironing is the harmful practice of flattening a young girls’ chest with hot stones or spatulas to stop them from growing. The UN reports that breast ironing affects 3.8 million girls around the world, and it is most common in Cameroon, where nearly a quarter of girls and women have had their breasts ironed.
Parents, often mothers, usually carry out the practice to protect their daughters from rape and sexual harassment. They also hope it’ll prevent early pregnancy and keep them in school. The abuse can leave lifelong mental and physical scars, leading to infections, difficulty breastfeeding, and increase the risk of breast cancer and cysts.
Aneeta Prem, a human rights activist and founder of the organization Freedom Charity told Refinery29 she’s not surprised to learn breast-ironing is on the rise. "We have seen over 65,000 children and many said they have experienced breast ironing,” she explained.
“It’s awful and disfigures girls. We need to stop it now. We need to save lives."
Authorities in the UK are trained to watch out for honor-based abuse, including breast-ironing, Minister for Equalities Susan Williams assured. British Border Force officers are on high alert for potential victims and victims of these kinds of abuse. Breast-ironing falls under the umbrella of child cruelty and allowing a child to suffer serious physical harm, both of which carry a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, she said. Member of Parliament Alexander Carlile said the next step is to have police and authorities gather evidence of breast ironing and report cases. This isn’t the first time the government has tried ending the practice in the UK –– in 2016, Parliament also committed to stopping it.
Founder of @FreedomCharity@ANEETAPREM told @5_News she has had been contacted by two girls who say they have been subjected to breast ironing here in the UK, and campaigners fear that many more could be at risk. pic.twitter.com/ihHaWUxRD7— Christina Michaels (@Kris_teen_a) January 29, 2019
While community workers throughout the UK have reported cases of breast-ironing, the secrecy around the practice makes it difficult to track. Experts say specifically outlawing breast-ironing could help prosecute perpetrators more efficiently.