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This month’s prevent bulletin focuses on Breast Ironing and FGM

Breast Ironing

Breast ironing is practised in some African countries and involves girls between the ages of 9 and 15 having hot stones or other instruments rubbed on their developing breasts to stop them growing further.

The number of reported cases in the UK is growing, and although this is seen in the culture as a protective measure against a young girl from being abducted, raped or forced in to arranged marriages, this is abuse. The metropolitan police have said “there needs to be tougher penalties for breast ironing, people need to recognise these practices for what they are, which is child abuse.”

The results of this practice is to make the young girls breasts develop slower, making her appear younger for longer which mothers, grandmothers and other females in the family who carry out these acts feel is protecting them from becoming vulnerable. Traditionally the acts are carried out by females in the family with the men generally unaware. It is estimated that around 3.8 million women in Africa have been affected. The British Government have said they are fully committed to stamping down on the practices and imposing heavier penalties. Woman who have been subjected to this horrific act are being empowered to speak out. Nyuydzewira, who was herself subjected to the abuse as a girl, said British authorities were not taking the problem seriously, and have not prosecuted those doing breast-ironing on their children on grounds of it being seen as a “cultural practice”. “The British people are so polite in the sense that when they see something like that, they think of cultural sensitivities,” she said. “But if it’s a cultural practice that is harming children … any harm that is done to a little girl, whether in public or in secrecy, that person should be held accountable.”

It is unknown to the extent at which this is happening in the UK as it is a hidden crime, and the victims will no doubt be reluctant to report their mother or grandmother however it is believed that this is a traditional that has now made its way to the UK and affecting girls generally between the ages of 8 and 12.

Long term effects caused by breast ironing may include…

  • Burning and scarring
  • Breast tissue can be damaged
  • Long term malformation
  • It can cause issues with breastfeeding later in life
  • The disappearance of the breast
  • Anxiety, fear, depression and PTSD
  • Abscesses or mastitis
  • Infections, that can be life threatening

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where by the external female genitalia is either partly removed or fully removed, this also includes injury to the female genital organs for non medical reasons. FGM is sometimes known as female circumcision or female genital cutting and is considered a violation of women’s and girls rights.

FGM is illegal in the UK. In the UK it is a criminal offence to carry out FGM and criminal and civil legislation is contained in the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 for England and Wales and for Scotland it is contained in the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Scotland Act 2005.

The law states it is an offence to:

  • Perform FGM in England, Wales and Scotland
  • Assist a girl to carry out FGM on herself in England, Wales and Scotland
  • Assist a non-UK person to carry out FGM outside of the UK on a UK national or UK resident

It is also an offence for a UK national or UK resident even in countries where FGM is not illegal to:

  • Perform FGM abroad
  • Assist a girl to perform FGM on herself outside of the UK
  • Assist (from outside the UK) a non-UK person to carry out FGM outside the UK on a UK national or UK resident

Usually it is a girls parents or extended family that arrange the FGM, with some reasons given as this protects family honour, it is a traditional practice, it is more clean and prepares the girl for marriage. FGM causes significant harm to the girl and can be both physically, emotionally and psychologically damaging to her physical and mental health. FGM can have serious consequences and can in some instances lead to death. Other consequences include severe pain, infections that can be life threatening, severe bleeding and then long term effects including pain during sexual intercourse, reoccurring infections and fertility issues.

For more information follow the link or you can call the free NSPCC FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550:

Further information

An offline version of this bulletin is available here

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