By Lin Taylor
LONDON, March 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The dangers of breast ironing - where a young girl's breasts are compressed to stop them developing - should be taught in all British schools, the country's largest education union said on Tuesday.
Teachers should also be trained to spot the signs of the "damaging" practice, which is designed to stop adolescent girls attracting male attention and is most prevalent in West African communities, the National Education Union (NEU) said.
"The NEU condemns the practice of breast ironing, which is so damaging to young women, and supports action to address the root causes," said Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the Union, in a statement to the Thomson Reuters Foundation,
"Compulsory, age-appropriate relationships and sex education will help girls and young women to have the confidence to assert control over their bodies and lives."
There is no official data on how many girls have undergone breast ironing in Britain. The Came Women and Girls Development Organisation, a British charity that helps people from disadvantaged communities, estimates it is about 1,000 girls.
British-based charity Forward, which supports survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM) in African communities, said it had not come across any breast ironing cases in Britain.
In February, the government said children aged 11 and older would be taught about the harm caused by FGM, a ritual that involves the partial or total removal of external genitalia.
Though FGM has been a criminal offence in Britain since 1985, there is no law specifically banning breast ironing in the country.
Breast ironing can lead to psychological trauma and serious health effects, including cysts, infection and scarring, according to Britain's National FGM Centre, which began campaigning against the practice in 2017.
Some families use large heated stones to compress a girl's breast tissue and some also tightly bind the girl's breasts to prevent them from growing, said the Centre, run by children's charity Barnardo's and the Local Government Association.
"Girls in primary school can be subjected to breast ironing so conversations that give children the opportunity to develop the ability to voice concerns is important," said Leethen Bartholomew, head of the Centre, in emailed comments.
"Teaching about gender equality, human rights and the consequences of harmful practices like breast ironing in schools would give children the opportunity to be made aware of this hidden form of child abuse." (Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and slavery, property rights, social innovation, resilience and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)
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