UK: Teachers Need Training to Spot Breast Ironing Abuse, Says Union

Pupils at the Kambui School for the Deaf, just outside Nairobi, take part in 'Read-Aloud' day activities, on January 31, 2013, in Kiambu. The 'Read-Aloud' day is celebrated worldwide to show that the right to read and write is an entitlement to all. More than 300 schools, human rights clubs …

A union has called for teachers to be trained on spotting signs of breast ironing and for awareness of the issue to be taught nationally in schools.

Joint president of the National Education Union Kiri Tunks has called for teachers, particularly physical education teachers, to be trained on spotting signs of the mutilation, reports the BBC.

The barbaric West-African origin practice entails the rubbing of hot stones on a pubescent girl’s breasts in an attempt to stop them from growing, causing physical and psychological damage to the victim, with practitioners believing the ironing will prevent unwanted sexual attention from men.

The issue has come to the fore in recent years in the wake of the FGM scandal in the UK — an abusive practice introduced by Muslim and African migrant communities — where despite there being thousands of reported cases only one person has been convicted of FGM under a 30-year-old law.

The calls came as the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show aired a special programme on Tuesday, relaying the stories of a number of women of West African heritage who were subjected to the abuse, often by family members including mothers and sisters.

Using the pseudonym ‘Simone,’ one victim, whose mother ironed her breasts at 13, told the programme, “To say the least, it’s an abuse. It dehumanises you. You are not a human being.”

Simone’s mother burnt her body when she found out her child was gay, the victim saying, “According to her, maybe I was attractive because of my breasts, so if she can iron them and I’m flat, then maybe I’ll be ugly and no-one will admire me.”

Another woman said her own sister ironed her breasts, the psychological damage of the abuse so great she can still remember the pain as vividly as the day it happened.

“I remember screaming a lot. I remember running from her,” Comfort said, describing how her mother would hold her on the floor while her sister burnt her.

“She was really angry and I don’t know why. She said, ‘Your breasts shouldn’t be growing at this time. You’re too young,'” said Comfort, who covers her chest with a scarf and coat to hide her breasts.

The government recognised breast ironing as child abuse for the first time in February. No official statistics are held on breast ironing, but one campaigner believes that as many as 1,000 girls and women have been subjected to the abuse in the UK.


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