Policy on Breast Ironing


Much like FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), Breast Ironing is a harmful cultural practice and is child abuse.

What is breast Ironing?

Breast Ironing, also known as “breast flattening” is the process whereby young pubescent girls breasts are ironed, massaged and/or pounded down through use of hard or heated objects. This is done in order for the breasts to disappear or delay the development of the breasts entirely. It is believed that by carrying out this act, young girls will be protected from harassment, rape, abduction and early forced marriage and therefore kept in education.

Breast ironing is practised in some African countries, notably Cameroon. Girls aged between 9 and 15 have hot pestles, stones or other implements rubbed on their developing breast to stop them growing further. In the vast majority of cases breast ironing is carried out by mothers or grandmothers and the men in the family are unaware.

Estimated range between 25% and 50% of girls in Cameroon are affected by breast ironing, affecting up to 3.8 million women across Africa.

The United Nations (UN) states that breast ironing affects 3.8 million women around the world and has been identified as one of the five under-reported crimes relating to gender-based violence.

Breast Ironing in the UK

Concerns have been raised that breast ironing is also found to be amongst African communities in the UK, with as many as a 1,000 reported cases of young girls being subjected to breast ironing. These cases have mainly been from the Birmingham and London areas. Keeping Children Safe in Education (2016) mentions breast ironing on page 54, as part of the section on so called “Honor Violence”.

Professional working with children and young people must be able to identify the signs and symptoms of girls who are at risk of or have undergone breast ironing.

The Indicators

Breast ironing is a well-kept secret between the young girl and her mother/grandmother. Some indicators that a girl has undergone breast ironing are as follows:

  • Unusual behaviour after absence from school or college including depression, anxiety, aggression, withdrawn etc;
  • Reluctance in undergoing normal medical examinations;
  • Some girls may ask for help, but may not be explicit about the problem due to embarrassment or dear
  • Fear of changing for physical activities due to scars showing or bandages being visible.


Breast Ironing = Physical Abuse

Breast ironing is a form of physical abuse that has been condemned by the United Nations and identified as Gender-based Violence. Although, countries where breast ironing is prevalent have ratified the African Charter on Human Rights to prevent harmful traditions practices, it is not against the law.

There is no specific law within the UK around breast ironing, however, it is a form of physical abuse and if professionals are concerned a child may be at risk of or suffering significant harm they must refer to their Local Safeguarding Childrens Board Procedures.

Health Consequences & Outcomes

Due to the instruments which are used during the process of breast ironing, for example spoon/broom, stones, pestle, breast band, leaves etc, combined with the insufficient aftercare, young girls are exposed to significant health risks. Breast ironing is extremely painful and violates a young girls physical integrity. It exposes girls to numerous health problems such as, abscesses, itching and discharge of milk, infection, dissymmetry of the breasts, cysts, breast infections, severe fever, tissue damage   and even the complete disappearance of one of both breasts. In some extreme cases, breast ironing can even be related to the onset of breast cancer.

Breast ironing can also have a massive impact on young girls social and psychological well-being.



Policy reviewed by Hayley Binion

January 2019