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Force-feeding a Scourge Among Mauritanian Nomads

Journalists have reported an unusual scourge among the Mauritanian nomads - the force-feeding of their girls. For to be fat is considered a sensible// ideal for brides-to-be.

Mothers cross sticks around the ankles and squeeze the ends together with rope till the girls cry out in pain.

That is one of forcing daughters to swallow litres of milk and mountains of couscous for days on end until they developed wings of fat hanging from their arms and their skin was traced with silvery stretch-marks - attributes considered the height of feminine beauty in Mauritania.

'They eat and eat, and drink and drink, and when they can't eat anymore we pinch them and sometimes they vomit,' Braika, a mother said.

'When they vomit on purpose, we make them eat the vomit to teach them not to do it again.'

She did not feel guilty about force-feeding her daughter. Only when fattened up, daughters could have the pick of husbands. 'A thin girl could be blown away in the wind, people think she is a stick and she will never find a husband,' she said.

Nomads seem to believe a fat girl is a healthy girl.

But then the Mauritanian government seems to have realized that in reality, obesity has reached epidemic proportions among Mauritanian women. It is actually killing them.

Barely into their 40s, fattened women are dying from obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and heart failure.

Mounina Mint Abdalla is a health consultant who worked for years with the government trying to stamp out force-feeding.

But she acknowledged that government radio sketches warning women of the dangers of obesity have had little effect on a society where fatness is revered as a symbol of nobility and good breeding.

Nonetheless, force-feeding and the nomadic way of life is fast disappearing, said Mounina.

'The country has been hit by years of drought and we simply don't have that kind of quantity of
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