Breast-ironing recognised as child cruelty and assault by CPS
Breast-ironing should be prosecuted as a form of child abuse, the CPS says in new guidance published today.
The harmful procedure – which involves flattening a girl’s chest with a hot stone or other objects to delay breast growth – is often performed by family members to prevent unwanted sexual attention.
Charities have estimated 1,000 girls in the UK have been affected by the practice, which doctors say can cause breast cancer, scarring, infections, breastfeeding problems, and psychological trauma.
Now CPS legal guidance makes clear to police and prosecutors that breast-ironing is a crime that can be caught under existing law, even if it is said that the victim has consented.
The offences to be considered by prosecutors include child cruelty and causing or allowing a child to suffer serious harm. Both crimes are punishable by up to ten years in prison. Assault charges would also be available to prosecutors, the guidance confirms.
Jaswant Narwal of the CPS said: “Our message is simple: breast-ironing is child abuse. The practice inflicts serious damage on young girls and can leave them scarred physically and mentally for the rest of their lives.
“Although this abuse often occurs in a family setting, the CPS is clear that a crime is committed when actual harm is caused to a girl - regardless of consent. It is not possible to consent to serious assault.
“We hope this new guidance will give victims, police and prosecutors the confidence they need to bring perpetrators of this cruelty to justice.”
Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Centre run in partnership by Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association, said: “At a time when they should be enjoying being young, no girl should be subject to these harmful practices, which cannot be justified for any reason.
“The Crown Prosecution Service’s legal guidance on the matter is therefore very welcome. We hope it will be useful not just to those in the legal profession, but will help inform families and communities that breast-ironing and flattening are illegal.”
The revised So-Called Honour-Based Abuse and Forced Marriage guidance also makes clear that forced marriage legislation can apply to scenarios where a person lacks the mental capacity to consent to being wed. This is intended to confirm that the law protects cases where someone suffering with advanced dementia or other degenerative disease could be coerced into marriage.
The guidance states that the offence of forced marriage will apply to anyone who “takes steps to to cause a person whom he knows cannot consent to marriage to enter marriage.”
Notes to editors
For full information on possible offences, see our updated legal guidance
The name of the guidance has been changed from Honour Based Violence to So-Called Honour-Based Abuse to reflect Home Office and law enforcement terminology
Jaswant Narwal is the Chief Crown Prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern and CPS lead for So-Called Honour-Based Abuse