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The health of our children is a top priority for many parents. We do our best to make sure they are eating properly and getting enough exercisebut sometimes we are not sure if what we are doing is enough.
She was so full, her little stomach close to bursting, after being force-fed five times a day until she was sick in a bid to fatten her up for marriage.
While it sounds shocking, it's a very real issue for girls living in the west African country of Mauritania, where big is considered beautiful and seen as an indicator of good health, despite the many problems associated with obesity. Based on the diet and the frequency of meals as described by the victims of the force feeding tradition, known as Leblouh, UNICEF estimates young girls could be forced to intake to 9, calories per day - over four times more than the World Health Organisation's daily recommendation, and some reports suggest that figure could be anywhere up to 16, calories a day.
It has been reported around a quarter of Mauritanian girls are force-fed during the 'feeding season', and there are even fattening farms to 'help' girls put on weight, with a 'successful' fattening process aiming for a year-old to weigh 80kg over 12st.
That's almost double the average weight of a healthy year-old female. The 29 year-old was force-fed from the age of four.
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She says: "It continued until I married at the age of From then on my mother used to sit with me and make sure I ate everything. When I refused to eat or vomited it, she used to hit or pinch me.
As I grew older, I saw my body change, and quickly gained weight. While Mauritania has set the legal age of marriage at 18 in accordance with international standards, marriage earlier is likely for many young girls.
According to a study conducted innearly one out of three girls aged between 15 and 19 gets married in Mauritania, and Annie is one of them. The hardest part was not vomiting. When I refused to eat or vomited, my mum used to hit or pinch me".
She recalls: "I was forcibly married at the age of 12 to a friend of my uncle who was much older than me. Barely a year later, shortly after my first period, I got pregnant.
Since then, I have had seven children and the eighth one is on the way. Recently taken care of by Mauritanian Association for Mother and Child Health thanks to the support of UNICEF, Annie, whose husband left her, is positive about the future, and determined her own three daughters will never go through the same experience. She says: "One minute I was playing with my friends and the next I was a woman.
One thing is for sure, I will never let my daughters go through the same thing I did. I will oppose that. As well as being an expert and a campaigner for women's rights Zeinabou also knows firsthand what it's like, having experienced the practice when she was five.
She says: "I still suffer after-effects - I have diabetes and my body is scarred. I was traumatised for life by the experience. There was a well-known proverb that says that the more space a woman takes up in a house, the more space she takes up in her husband's heart. The times I refused to do so, she beat me on my feet with a large wooden pliers.
'i used to be locked in a room until i'd finished eating'
It was like that until I got married, at the age of Now, adolescent girls are reportedly increasingly using medication and chemicals to help with weight gain. Treatment for allergies and colds with the side effect of increased appetite, and growth hormones for animals have emerged in recent years as weight gain 'aids' sold on the black market.
Zeinabou says: "It's very serious because it's not controlled at all. These treatments are readily available for 1.
How i saved my daughter s life a mother s story of
Thankfully, the ancient practice is nowhere near as widespread as it used to be, and Zeinabou continues to campaign alongside UNICEF for women and children to enjoy fair rights. Jump directly to the content.
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