Breast ironing is abuse and could lead to jail, UK prosecutors say

by Lin Taylor | @linnytayls | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 19 July 2019 11:47 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A stick used for breast ironing is seen on a fire at survivor of breast ironing's home in Douala, Cameroon, November 4, 2013. T REUTERS/Joe Penney

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Some families use large heated stones to compress a girl's breast tissue and some also tightly bind the girl's breasts to prevent them from growing

By Lin Taylor

LONDON, July 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Breast ironing - where a young girl's breasts are compressed to stop them developing - is child abuse and could lead to 10 years in jail, British prosecutors said on Friday.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it issued new guidance to give victims, police and prosecutors the confidence to sentence those who perform breast ironing, which is designed to stop adolescent girls attracting male attention.

It is most prevalent in West African communities.

"Our message is simple: breast ironing is child abuse," said Jaswant Narwal, a chief crown prosecutor. "The practice inflicts serious damage on young girls and can leave them scarred physically and mentally for the rest of their lives."

Britain has no specific law banning the practice, but it could fall under the offences of child cruelty and causing or allowing a child to suffer serious harm, the CPS said. Both crimes are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Assault charges could also be brought, the legal guidance said.

"Although this abuse often occurs in a family setting, the CPS is clear that a crime is committed when actual harm is caused to a girl - regardless of consent. It is not possible to consent to serious assault," Narwal said in a statement.

There is no official data on how many girls have undergone breast ironing in Britain. The Came Women and Girls Development Organisation, a British charity that helps people from disadvantaged communities, estimates it is about 1,000 girls.

British-based charity Forward, which supports survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM) in African communities, said it had not come across breast ironing cases in the country so far.

Breast ironing can lead to psychological trauma and serious health effects, including cysts, infection and scarring, according to Britain's National FGM Centre.

Some families use large heated stones to compress a girl's breast tissue and some also tightly bind the girl's breasts to prevent them from growing, said the Centre, run by children's charity Barnardo's and the Local Government Association.

"At a time when they should be enjoying being young, no girl should be subject to these harmful practices, which cannot be justified for any reason," said Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Centre, in a statement.

"We hope (the guidance) will be useful not just to those in the legal profession, but will help inform families and communities that breast-ironing and flattening are illegal."

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and slavery, property rights, social innovation, resilience and climate change. Visit to see more stories.)

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