It's the startling and inhumane practice where moms use hot rocks to stunt girls' development. Learn where and how it's done and what you can do to help.
This video is shocking and disturbing--not only because of the content -- but also because we had never heard of this hidden practice.
Many mothers write to us trying to find a way to teach their own daughters about what's happening in the world and give them perspective on how lucky we are to live in our society. This is an important issue to discuss with girls and something you can fight together. Please click here to sign the petition addressed to President Bush, The UN, and the Prime Minister of Cameroon--and let's join as women, mothers and daughters to help stop the abuse.
Momlogic: How did you find out about this ritual?
Nina: I was researching something else at the UN, and someone mentioned it to me. I was shocked. It seems that no one really knows about it. I was surprised that this wasn't common knowledge and that it wasn't spoken about. No one spoke about it. (In an effort to fight breast ironing, the Network of Aunties Association (RENATA) was formed, a local NGO composed of teen mothers.)
ML: What is most frustrating about this situation?
NG: If they were doing this to men's penises, the government would speak up. There needs to be better education and more open talk about the issue.
ML: It seems unreal that mothers do this to their children.
NG: The problem is that when the girls get pregnant, the men run away. The girls get stuck with the kids, and their moms end up taking on the responsibility and they don't want it.
ML: Is this a brand new practice?
NG: In the past, healing doctors have breast ironed, but to iron out lumps or to produce breast milk. But for stunting puberty, it's relatively new. Because of improved diet and living conditions, girls are growing breasts earlier, and it's jarring to see. It would be the equivalent of seeing a 5-year-old with breasts here.
ML: What are some of the long-lasting effects?
NG: There's no place where these women can just go and get plastic surgery to repair their breasts. They get dumped because they are disfigured. This may seem trivial at first, but like our teenagers, it can be incredibly traumatizing to feel like you have to hide your body or to get broken up with because you are disfigured. And, these girls are terrified. There are so many stories. In one case, a "healer" sucked something out of her breast and literally rubbed salt in her wounds. The fear alone sticks aside from the medical effects.
ML: You seemed very disturbed when Monica is about to iron her daughter Bishi's breasts, and you intervened. Was that a difficult decision?
NG: I suddenly found myself in a situation where I was involved in the story and had to think on my feet. It was shaken for a few hours after that happened. I wondered what part I played in this -- in terms of my decision to stop it. I never thought NOT to stop it. I was the one adding the trauma to the situation. There's a difference between "I'll show you" as opposed to "I'm about to do it now, so take a look."
ML: It's difficult not to blame the mothers in this situation, but how about having the men stop having sex with these young women?
NG: I went into this thinking this same thing, but it's just not clear cut. These girls are developing under the age of 9, but if you ask around, no one has ever really heard of a 9-year-old getting pregnant. They see men LOOKING, but most pregnancies come from consensual sex. But, of course, there are huge issues involving men and women...A man won't get convicted of rape if he marries the woman. A lot of the problem has to do with a lack of sexual education, so it's tough to draw a direct arrow to teenage sex.
ML: Does this happen elsewhere?
NG: The study was done in Cameroon, but it's suspected that it happens in surrounding countries as well. But the research hasn't been done yet. The subject is not talked about openly.
ML: You obviously did this documentary to help bring awareness to this practice. What can we do?
NG: There needs to be more international awareness. The people on the ground need financial support. There needs to be more pressure on government to speak out against it.
Click to see the entire segment that was part of a Vanguard special report on Current TV. Tune in to Current TV's Vanguard Journalism series that airs every Wednesday at 10PM ET/ 7PM PT and on Current.com.