'STRANGER IN THE HOUSE'

Parliament exposed after MP ejected for taking baby to House

Speaker in Wednesday's session says PSC set aside a breastfeeding room, her ejection coincides with last day of World Breastfeeding Week

In Summary

• Parliamentary Service Commission had been petitioned to set up a breastfeeding room in 2013

• Parliament approved the Breastfeeding Mothers Act two years ago requiring every entity with more than 30 employees to have a room for lactating mothers. 

Parliament chambers
BREASTFEEDING ACT: Parliament chambers
Image: FILE

Parliament was yesterday under sharp focus over claims of not living to the legal requirement that organisations must set up special rooms for breastfeeding mothers. 

This followed the ejection of Kwale MP Zulekha Hassan from the chambers for bringing her baby to the chambers for the Wednesday morning debate. 

The MP said she had an emergency and had to choose between coming with the baby to work or not coming to work altogether. 

 

The House, despite approving the Breastfeeding Mothers Act two years ago, is yet to set up facilities not only for members to breastfeed, but also to change their babies.

The Act, the work of Murang’a Woman MP Sabina Chege, requires that any company or organisation that as more than 30 employees must have the facilities. 

The law also grants mothers at least 40 minutes break every four hours to allow them to feed their infants, should they choose to carry them to the workplace.

However, Speaker Moses Cheboi said contrary to the claims, the PSC had set aside the facility to cater for lactating mothers.

"The Office of the Clerk has informed me that the PSC has indeed set aside a facility with the parliamentary square, specifically the fourth floor of Red Cross building to cater for breastfeeding mothers," Cheboi said.

In a communication, the Speaker for the afternoon sitting severely reprimanded the Kwale MP for her action.

Zulekha’s ejection coincided with the last day of World Breastfeeding Week. 

 

The Breastfeeding Mothers Act posits that employers in violation of the requirement are liable to Sh500,000 fine or its executives jailed for one year in default.

In the Wednesday morning debate, female MPs protested the lack of the required room, saying the situation affects their work as legislators.

Gilgil’s Martha Wangari, Sophia Abdi Noor (Ijara), Rachel Nyamai (Kitui South), and Sarah Korere (Laikipia North) spoke on the matter.

Wangari said they petitioned the Parliamentary Service Commission to set up the room in 2013 but the same is yet to be acted upon. She was then a nominated MP. 

“We may look at this as a small issue but it means a lot to us as mothers,” the first-term elected lawmaker said.

Noor said: “It is unfortunate that such an incident can happen in Parliament where laws are made. I wonder what mothers out there go through.”

The Ijara MP added: “If they (PSC) don’t create a breastfeeding room, then we will urge all members with breastfeeding children to come with them in the chambers so as to send a message.” 

Nyamai said: “A child has a right to be with the mother and we don’t understand why she (Zulekha) is being sent away." 

Korere said lawmakers must lead by example, adding that they will stop at nothing to have the room created.

Homa Bay Town MP Opondo Kaluma joined the leaders in the push for the creation of the breastfeeding room. The facility should be fitted with gadgets that enable them to contribute to debates.

Presiding speaker Chris Omulele directed that breastfeeding members should restrict themselves to the special facilities set by PSC after asking assembly orderlies to eject the woman MP. 

The argument by lawmakers was that their Kwale counterpart was in breach of the House rule which bars strangers from attending plenary sessions, unless in the public gallery.

“You cannot come and abuse the chamber of the people of Kenya. We recognise that members may have children, but not within the debating chamber. It cannot be done on my watch,” the temporary speaker said.

Leader of Majority Aden Duale said Zulekha should be cited for gross misconduct, adding that the House strictly has 349 members.

“All of us have children. This House has a stranger. This is an abuse of the House and the member must be cited for gross misconduct,” the Garissa Township MP said.

“We must promote the dignity of this House whether Parliament created a place for breastfeeding or not.  The member has ashamed the people of Kwale."

Some quarters cited the case of parliaments in Australia, Italy and Spain where members have been spotted breastfeeding in the chambers.

Edited by R.Wamochie