DIGNITY

The Human Right to Dignity: The Case of Mauritania

What is the right to human dignity?

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human dignity is the right to life, freedom from torture and freedom of opinion. Everyone is entitled to the right to human dignity without discrimination.

What is force-feeding?

Force-feeding, known as Leblouh, could be defined as the practice of feeding a human against their will. Girls’ meals most often are porridge, couscous, and camel milk. It is a major issue for girls who live in Western Africa, specifically Mauritania. UNICEF estimates that ‘young girls could be forced to consume 9,000 calories per day – over four times more than the World Health Organization’s daily recommendation, and some reports suggest that figure could be
anywhere up to 16,000 calories a day. This practice is supported because weight is a sign of wealth and beauty in Mauritanian culture.

Is force-feeding a violation of human rights?

Force-feeding is a form of child abuse because it encompasses torturous practices such as forcing a tube on girls’ throats and beatings. It is a violation of human rights because the practices used are very violent. There are ‘fattening farms’ where parents send their daughters to gain weight without their consent. Girls can be forced to eat even if they are not hungry and if they refuse to eat they can be locked in their rooms until they finish their meal. They also have to sustain diverse forms of violence, such as pinching and beatings if they disobey. Eating great amounts of food
is also hard on them physically, as sometimes they have the urge to vomit because they cannot keep the food down. Many times they are forced to take weight gain medication which is available on the black market putting their health at risk.

What are the consequences of force-feeding?

The act of force-feeding has many health risks. It disrupts girls’ normal growth rate, as girls gain up to double the weight suggested for their age. In addition, force-feeding can cause long term health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, respiratory problems and an overall shorter life expectancy. Force-feeding can also lead to early marriages which is dangerous physically and mentally for girls because many times girls become receptors of violence from their husbands and their families.

What is being done?

The Mauritanian government planned ‘to launch a program with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) with funding from the Spanish government’ to fight against the practice of force-feeding. The Mauritanian Association for Mother and Child Health fights the practice of force-feeding trying to eliminate it.

Conclusion

Despite acknowledging the harmful consequences of force-feeding, Mauritians continue this dangerous practice of extreme weight gain. Girls should fight back against force-feeding because they do not need to risk their lives to be loved. Action needs to be taken immediately to stop force-feeding.

MARIETTA KOSMA

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