Extent Of Forced Fattening In Mauritania

While millions of people in Africa are facing food shortages because of drought, flash floods, or war, women in Mauritania are still being force-fed until they are grossly obese, because traditional Mauritanian society sees heavy, overweight females as being beautiful, wealthy, and socially acceptable. Although this view is changing, with a 2007 survey by the Social Solidarity Association showing that only 7% of city girls were being force fed, the corresponding percentage in rural areas is close to 75%.

Methods Of Forced Fattening (Leblouh)

The forced fattening is known as leblouh. Girls used to be forced to take huge quantities of camel’s milk or fatty foods such as oily couscous or mutton fat, but according to Mar Jubero Capdeferro, in charge of gender programmes for the UN Population Fund in Mauritania, they are now being given “chemicals used to fatten animals”. Punishments meted out for not finishing a fattening meal can be severe. One method is to tie the girl’s toes to sticks, which can be pushed against the toes, sending shockwaves of pain through the feet. Another is to make a girl who throws up eat her own vomitus. Forced fattening may be done at home or at camps, by professional forcefeeders.

Changes In Attitude

In a recent CNN programme on leblouh, Mariam Mint Ahmed, 25, says that her generation “should put an end to the custom that threatens our lives”. She is one of a group of women not pressing for a change in legislation, but wanting women to be educated about the health risks of gross obesity.

However, a government campaign to fight child abuse and raise awareness of the health risks of obesity had been started in 2003. Unfortunately that campaign ended in August 2008, when a military coup toppled the democratic government and installed a junta that favored a return to tradition. The junta was kept in power by a subsequent election, whose results were suspected to have been influenced by vote-rigging.

Think About It

As the previous Mauritanian government realized, leblouh does not just carry health risks, it is a form of child abuse. How can this idea be rammed into the heads of the country’s present leaders? Will education alone be sufficient to stem out leblouh? Or is legislation necessary as well?

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