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No girl is safe’: The mothers ironing their daughters’ breasts

IDPs in Katsina

Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq

Cameroonian girls are enduring a painful daily procedure with long lasting physical and psychological consequences.

For most children, their birthday is a time of celebration. But that was not the case for Mirabel when she turned 10..

For Mirabel, a Cameroonian refugee living in Nigeria, turning 10 marked the start of gruelling daily torture – having her breasts ironed with hot stones by her mother.E

Everymorning, a neighbour from the refugee community where she lives in Ogoja, in Nigeria’s southeastern Cross River State, holds her legs firmly in place while her mother takes a burning hot pestle straight from the fire and presses it against her daughter’s chest in an attempt to flatten her breasts.

The procedure can be repeated for months, or even years, and is intended to either stop young girls developing breasts or to flatten them once they have.”

It feels like they are placing real fire on my breasts,” Mirabel says. “I have been in pain since the first day.”

Gender-based violence

Hermother, Angela, says the pain and discomfort her daughter is enduring worries her less than the reports she has heard of teenage girls being sexually harassed or exploited by men. She is determined to focus her efforts on making her daughter less desirable to men.”

I just don’t want her to become a target of boys around her,” says Angela. “I’m aware that many boys here like to chase after little girls.”

Althoughmany of the families Al Jazeera spoke to mentioned the vulnerability of young girls growing up as refugees as one of the reasons for their decision to iron their daughters’ breasts, the practice has been happening in Cameroon for generations.

The origin of the practice is unclear, but about a quarter of women in Cameroon have undergone breast ironing, according to research by Gender Empowerment and Development (GeED), a non-governmental organisation based in Yaounde, Cameroon, which found that in nearly 60 percent of cases, the procedure is carried out by mothers.

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The United Nations has described breast ironing as one of the most under-reported crimes associated with gender-based violence. It is thought to affect 3.8 million women globally.’No girl is safe here’.Like many other refugees in Cross River State, Mirabel and Angela fled the southwestern Cameroonian town of Akwaya for Nigeria after fighting broke out between government forces and English-speaking separatists who complain that they have been marginalised in the majority French-speaking country. The conflict has forced some 500,000 people from their homes and created a humanitarian crisis in the region.

According to the latest figures from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), Nigeria currently hosts more than 50,000 refugees from Cameroon, with 70 percent of these in Cross River State. Roughly half the refugees live in one of four refugee settlements, while the rest live in host communities.

Angela and her daughter arrived in Ogoja in February 2018, joining thousands of other refugees taking shelter in the Adagom and Okende host communities where women and girls have reported being sexually harassed by members of the host communities as well as by other refugees.

“These days, you cannot step out of the house without meeting a man who is demanding sex or inviting you to his home,” says Queen, a 17-year-old girl who fled the southwestern Cameroonian border town of Mamfe with her parents for Adagom.

 

“No girl is safe here.”
More than 12 Cameroonian girls living in settlements in Adagom and Okende told Al Jazeera that they are regularly sexually harassed by men.
“I needed money to buy sanitary pads, so I went to ask a man [in the community] for help but he started touching me as soon as I walked up to him,” says Lydia, a 16-year-old girl who lives in the Adagom refugee settlement. “I ran away as he tried to drag me to him.”
Worried about the safety of their 13-year-old daughter, Helen and her husband made the decision to iron her breasts after she reported that a man whose home she cleans regularly touched her inappropriately.
“The harassment she faced made our decision [to iron her breasts] easier,” explains Helen, who fled Akwaya and lives in the Okende host community with her family. “All we did was for her own good.”
But, Salome Gambo, a senior protection specialist at the Caprecon Development and Peace Initiative, which is based in Abuja but works on child protection in refugee camps across northeast Nigeria, says: “This practice just ends up harming children and putting them at risk of severe complications. Families should rather channel their efforts towards educating their daughters on sex issues.”

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‘Survival sex’

The refugee families’ fears for their daughters are not unfounded. Female refugees and displaced people in Nigeria are at high risk of sexual harassment and exploitation. The UN has said it is aware of a high level of “survival sex” – women turning to prostitution out of desperation – in camps housing Cameroonian refugees in Cross River State.

UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said: “For women, the lack of work combined with the over-stretched reception facilities, creates a higher risk of sexual and gender-based violence, particularly from survival sex. So far, only a limited number of such cases have been recorded, mainly in the Amana community of Cross River state. However, UNHCR is concerned that many more incidents go unreported or are referred only to community elders.”

But even in their home country, Cameroonian girls are at risk of early marriage and pregnancy. According to UNICEF, in the period between 2008 and 2014, 13 percent of Cameroonian children were married by the time they are 15 and 38 percent by the time they were 18. According to the Cameroon Medical Council, 25 percent of pregnancies occur in school-age girls, and 20 percent of pregnant girls do not return to school.
Many Cameroonian families may fear that living as refugees adds an element of danger for their daughters. But for others, breast ironing is a matter of societal expectation.
“It felt like I was the only one left out,” says Pamela, whose two closest friends had ironed their daughters’ breasts. “I just had to do it like the others did.”

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But whether it takes place in Cameroon or refugee communities elsewhere, activists have been warning of the consequences for the victims’ physical and psychological health.
“Girls who undergo the procedure risk issues like breast cancer, cysts and an inability to breastfeed, not to mention the physical and psychological scars associated with the custom,” said Gambo, who has counselled a number of victims of the practice. “It’s time families put an end to such abuse.”

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS
Author:Philip Obaji Jr.

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Dominican Republic, IOM clear hurdles for 100,000 Venezuelan migrants

The Migration Normalization Plan will allow Venezuelans living irregularly in the Dominican Republic to work, move without risk of deportation, open bank accounts and join the country’s social security system.  Photo: IOM / Francesco Spotorno

 

 

Santo Domingo – The first group of almost 100,000 Venezuelan migrants without legal status in the Dominican Republic have received visas allowing them to work, open bank accounts and join the social security system under the country’s Migration Normalization Plan.

Created by the Dominican government and launched with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the plan aims to regularize the Venezuelan population in three stages: application for extension of stay, visa, and residency. Since April, when the first phase began, 43,000  Venezuelans have registered to extend their stay and, on 1 July, the first group of 21 Venezuelans received their work visa.

“Now that I have my visa, I feel that for others like me a lot of opportunities are opening. We will be able to establish more safely and formally to offer a better future to our children,” says Gabriela Rivero, who arrived in the country with her husband and daughter in 2018.  “Once we settled, we did not imagine how difficult it would be to get a job because the lack of documentation closed all doors.”

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Since 2019 Gabriela has led a support organization for Venezuelan migrants in Santiago de los Caballeros called FEV (Fundación Emigrantes de Venezuela), which offers free orientation and helps hundreds of migrants daily to complete their normalization plan applications.

With IOM support, eight Venezuelan migrant organizations have created orientation hubs to assist the Venezuelan population who are applying to the plan. Of the 43,000  registered through the General Directorate of Migration (DGM) web page, around 9,000 have visited the hubs for help on the procedure. The promoters and coordinators of each hub – mostly Venezuelan migrants – have learned the process with the support and guidance of the DGM team and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MIREX). Besides being trained for orientation, they became the pilot group of the plan to receive their extensions and visas.

“The idea of this process is that we are the ones at the front of the hubs, a migrant helping a migrant, a Venezuelan helping a Venezuelan,” says Iván Carrera, a lawyer from Caracas and legal adviser of FUNCOVERD (Fundación Colonia de Venezolanos en RD). Carrera works as a promoter at the orientation hub in El Sambil Santo Domingo, one of the locations with the most people requesting support for their application.

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IOM launches open South America portal

International Organisation of Migration (

Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open South America, available in SpanishEnglish and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.

The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.

The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.

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Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.

“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.

“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.

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29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM

The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.

About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.

Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.

He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.

Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.

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“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”

International Organisation of Migration (

Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.

“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.

Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.

The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.

READ  Massacre of 59 African migrants:  Rights group seeks prosecution of ex-Gambian President

 

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