The custom of flat-chested is very popular in TChad, Guinea Bissau, Togo, Benin and especially in Cameroon (countries in Africa). Nearly a quarter of girls and women in this country must go through the process of being flat-chested.
Men in this area of the country strongly believe that teenage girls as low as 9 years whose breasts are developing are ripe for sex. In reaction, a mother who cares about her daughter and monitors her daughter’s breast growth pounds the breast with hot objects such as a stone, hammer, an umbilical belt or a pestle so that it stops developing. This way, men will find her unattractive and she can pursue her education. True to their plans, pregnancy rate has reduced since 1996.
Although the aim of this custom is to protect girls from evils, this can cause both physical and mental damage to the girls.
A little girl named Terisia told about her horrifying experiences when her own mother flatted her chest. Every morning waking up, Terisia’s mother prepared a piece of iron in the oven and made her lie down so she could put the iron on her chest. Even though Terisia urgently pleaded, the mother still decided to do it because she thought it was love. The mother casually placed the hot iron piece on Terisia’s chest while she writhed in pain. It continued many times until Terisia’s breasts couldn’t grow anymore.
This custom is not only done by mothers but can be any female relatives of girls. There are cases where the girls themselves iron their breasts.
Heated tools often leave scars. Injury can make girls more susceptible to infection and subsequent complications. Some women who are flat-chested say they have trouble in breastfeeding and raising babies later. Not only that, but being flat-chested also makes girls feel inferiority complex about themselves.
Although being flat chest is extremely painful and leaves many consequences, it is not groundless. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 38% of Cameroon children get married before the age of 18. More than a quarter of teenage girls are mothers and 20% of them drop out of school after pregnancy, the report of Cameroon Medical Council showed.
One study found that one in four girls in Cameroon had to go through a routine of ironing breast. Many cases have left unfortunate consequences because of the psychological trauma, infections leading to reproductive health effects, even death.
Before these consequences, many organizations in Cameroon have advocated people not to apply this method of pain both physically and mentally, because it seriously violates human rights. Instead, organizations propagated extensively on sex education, caring more about the health of girls, and promulgating laws prohibiting the implementation of gruesome practices like flat chests.
Kim Ngan Do
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