GIVING SPACE

Non-compliance with proposed breastfeeding law to cost employers Sh10,000 fine daily

Sabina Chege's bill makes lactating rooms a compulsory requirement for offices

In Summary
  • The bill also seeks to have employers compelled to spare mothers 40 minutes every four hours to attend to their children.
  • The room must not be a bathroom or toilet and should have a lockable door.
A photo of the creche where nursing MPs take care of their babies.
A photo of the creche where nursing MPs take care of their babies.
Image: COURTESY

Employers and owners of buildings in public places face a Sh10,000 fine daily for failing to set aside rooms for breastfeeding mothers if a new bill is passed.

The fine will apply from the date an organisation is found to be non-compliant with the law providing for the establishment of the facilities.

The proposed law makes lactating rooms a compulsory requirement for offices and buildings in public spaces. If it becomes law, the Breastfeeding Mothers Bill will apply to property owners, lessors and tenants of a public or private building with a capacity of at least 50 people.

The bill was read for the first time on Wednesday.  It obliges both government and private entities to set up baby changing facilities for use by mothers. Non-compliance will cost at least Sh1 million fine or a year's jail-term.

Mothers will be allowed to use any baby changing facility within reach in proposals which also entrench a woman’s right to breastfeed in public.

“The act of a woman breastfeeding her child in public shall not be construed to amount to an indecent act,” Murang’a Woman Representative Sabina Chege says in her bill.

It also seeks to have employers compelled to spare mothers 40 minutes every four hours to attend to their children.

A lactation room shall be required to be shielded from view and be free from intrusion from co-workers; clean, quiet, private and warm.

Chege, who is the chair of the National Assembly Health committee, says the room must not be a bathroom or toilet and must have a lockable door.

The facility, she holds, should be furnished with a washbasin, fridge for storing expressed milk, and supplied with electricity.

The room will also be required to have a chair, table as well as clean storage space with the same being in a physical environment safe for babies.

Employers will also be required to provide appropriate programmes that help develop a baby’s cognitive, emotional, social and language abilities.

A mother who may need more than the 40 hours provided in the proposed law will be required to obtain written instructions from a doctor stating that need.

Employers will equally be required to provide a flexible work arrangement with the concerned mothers for purposes of expressing milk or breastfeeding.

The arrangement shall specify the number of hours the employee is to work, the type of work or number of work assignments, and the exact location.

For public spaces, the requirement would be that the rooms be clean and private, fitted with baby changing table, wastebasket, and have signage indicating its location.

The Health Cabinet Secretary may make regulations for implementing the proposed law by prescribing the requisite standards and contents of rooms set aside for breastfeeding.

The MoH will also prescribe the manner and conduct of promoting public awareness on workplace needs.

It will also be required to spell how it would conduct, inspect and certify lactation rooms as mother-baby friendly.

Chege says the proposal creates a legal framework for implementing the clarion call that mothers and pressure groups have been agitating for.

She holds that this is motivated by the fact of breastfeeding being the first preventing health measure for children, and for enhancing a mother-infant relationship.

“It is nature’s first immunisation, enabling the infant to fight potential serious infection and contains growth factors that enhance the maturation of an infant’s organ systems.”

The lawmaker says the move follows concerns that female employees exit the workforce or stop breastfeeding to secure their jobs.

“No woman should be forced to compromise the health of her child in order to make a living,” Chege says in her proposal.

She wants the government, in line with international treaties, to promote and encourage breastfeeding and provide avenues for actualising the same.

“Furthermore, the practice of breastfeeding may save the country’s valuable foreign exchange that may otherwise be used for milk importation,” the bill reads.

Breastfeeding remains a challenge for working mothers in the face of many institutions, including government agencies, not having the facilities.

Parliament, for instance, created one but the facility remained unused for lack of awareness of its existence by members.

It was after Kwale Woman Representative Zulekha Hassan protested by bringing her baby to the chamber when the crèche was opened and publicised.

Women leaders have for years piled pressure on agencies to act on the need but the same has been unenforceable because there is no law.