Africa is a continent with a rich cultural heritage and diverse traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. However, there are some practices that have been deemed harmful and detrimental to the health and well-being of individuals, particularly women and children. These practices continue to persist in some parts of the continent and are in need of urgent abolition.
In the arid lands of Mauritania, Morocco, and Algeria, a centuries-old tradition is causing harm to young girls and women. The practice is known as Leblouh, and it involves the forced feeding of young girls to make them gain weight in order to be considered more desirable for marriage.
Leblouh is deeply ingrained in the culture of these countries, where a woman's size is seen as a sign of wealth and status. It is practiced mainly by the Moors and the Berbers, two ethnic groups with a long history of nomadic lifestyles. In these communities, being overweight is considered a sign of prosperity, and young girls are encouraged to gain weight in order to attract wealthy suitors.
The practice begins at a young age, usually around 5 or 6, when girls are separated from their families and sent to live with a female relative or "foster mother". These women are tasked with the responsibility of feeding the girls large quantities of food and liquids, which often consist of high-calorie and fatty foods such as couscous, millet, and dates. The girls are then forced to drink large amounts of milk or water in a short period of time, causing them to feel bloated and uncomfortable.
Over time, the girls' diets become increasingly restrictive, with many being forced to eat up to 16,000 calories a day. This can lead to serious health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. The girls are also at risk of developing psychological disorders, including depression and anxiety, as they are often isolated from their families and communities during the feeding process.
Despite the health risks, Leblouh continues to be practiced in these countries, with some families seeing it as a rite of passage for young girls. The practice has even been glamorized in popular media, with images of overweight women being seen as a symbol of beauty and power.
However, there is a growing movement to put an end to Leblouh. Organizations such as Tostan and the Mauritanian Association for the Health and Protection of the Mother and Child are working to raise awareness about the dangers of the practice and educate communities about the importance of nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
It is time for these countries to recognize the harm that Leblouh is causing to young girls and women and take action to end this harmful tradition. No woman should be forced to compromise her health and well-being in order to conform to cultural norms. It is time for change, and it is up to all of us to make it happen.
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