GREATER awareness of a female mutilation practice, known as breast ironing, which experts believe could be taking place across London, was highlighted at a conference in Northolt on Friday (27).

Breast ironing involves massaging or pressing the breasts of young adolescent girls, using a stone or spatula that has been heated over a fire. It is a practice prevalent in Cameroon and is now thought to be occurring in the UK Cameroonian community.

It is usually carried out by mothers who want to prevent their daughters from growing breasts that would attract unwanted male attention, possible rape and pregnancy. There is also a social stigma attached, as girls with large breasts are often viewed as promiscuous.

The practice is extremely painful and can lead to abscesses, infection, dissymmetry of the breasts, cysts, severe fever, tissue damage and the complete disappearance of the breast.

CAME Women’s and Girl’s Development Organisation, which organised the conference at Northolt library, is also calling on medical experts to establish whether a link between breast ironing and breast cancer exists.

The organisation believes the practice could be happening to girls as young as eight. Fathers are usually unaware the violence is occurring.

Margaret Nyuydzewira, co-founder and chair of the organisation, said: “We need to empower Cameroonian women to talk about breast ironing because too many are silent on the issue – they view it as a cultural matter.”

Ricky Singh, Director of Ealing Equality Council, believes it is very likely the abuse is widespread across the capital, based on his knowledge of female genital mutilation cases.