Thursday, November 03, 2005

Abusing children with misguided love

Anyone who caught last night’s BBC2 programme, Force Fed, will have been horrified by the custom of force-feeding young girls to make them fat, a sign of beauty, prosperity and prestige in traditional Mauritanian society.

Mauritania is a poor desert society that is being transformed by wealth brought on by oil. This wealth is changing the traditional nomadic lifestyle in ways that are spreading education amongst children whose families roam less across the desert. And while this wealth is changing some of the attitudes towards force-feeding young girls, the desire to have fat women persists and more modern methods, arguably worse than the traditional ones, are becoming available.

There is a great social divide between the lighter skinned Moors of the north and the rest of the population. Wealth and slavery allowed the Moorish princesses to live a life of idle luxury whereby they grew fat leading to the appreciation of obesity in women as a sign of beauty and status. In a country that suffers great food shortages during the long dry months and the frequent droughts, putting on weight is no easy matter. So a tradition of force-feeding young girls by their mothers and grandmothers has developed. Once the rains have come and food, particularly milk, is more abundant, the young girls are coerced with physical and verbal abuse to consume vast quantities of milk and couscous way beyond the needs of their bodies. The girls cry in protest and often vomit the excess food but the practice persists for many years leading to premature puberty and eventual obesity. Mothers were happy to admit to the camera that they beat their daughters to ensure that they eat as much as possible.

This immediate abuse is bad enough but the health problems brought on in later life – hypertension, diabetes, weakened hearts and joints, gall stones, kidney failure, etc – ensure that the abuse does not end once the force feeding ends. And now that there is more wealth, unscrupulous chemists are to be found everywhere selling illegal corticosteroids to assist mothers in their quest to make their daughters fat. These drugs also have the added benefit of making the skin lighter, another sign of beauty and status even though they often lead to excess facial hair.

It was heart breaking watching a 10 year old being forced to drink vast quantities of milk while voluntarily keeping her fingers in her grandmother’s ‘torture device’, a wooden clamp. It was pitiful hearing about the methods she resorted to, including bulimia, to consume less food. It was tragic hearing how she didn’t want to get fat because she knew what effect it would have on her life and her desire to become a teacher.

The government is promoting healthier lifestyles by condemning force-feeding and promoting healthier eating and exercise. But it isn’t addressing the reasons behind this abuse, an abuse being perpetuated out of misguided love. Until that is done, it is unlikely that this tradition will disappear soon.


Blogger kyknoord said...

Shocking. Many people equate 'tradition' with 'good', no matter how apalling the tradition may be when viewed some objectivity.

10:09 am  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

'Tradition' and 'culture' are often treated with kid gloves in these days of celebrating cultural diversity.

I believe in multi-culturalism and the benefits of cultural diversity but I also believe in a set of universal values/beliefs that supersede elements of culture and tradition that need to be eradicated.

11:37 am  
Blogger Brenda Anne Du Faur said...

Obviously this force feeding is severe, unspeakable child abuse. There should be organizations there trying to stop it in full force. The children need to be protected. Misguided love of the mothers and grandmothers? It is so far worse than that. Physical brutality has to be shown to them as horrible and unacceptable abuse. There should be punishment for abusers. It is all treated so mildly, this complete, tragic, horrendous victmization of children. The severe abuse of females and female children of the world. There needs to be dramatic and fierce, systematic efforts to put an end to it all. Approaching it on every level. Going to the core of the peoples' ideas and wrong thinking. Busting the mentality which propogates force feeding innocent children. Making them slowly realize that they are being deep abusers to their very own children... A deep crack has to be put in their minds ...

10:12 am  

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