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More to do to promote breastfeeding rights

More to do to promote breastfeeding rights

More could be done to promote breastfeeding rights other than changes to law, the Human Rights Commission told the Health Select Committee considering the issue today.

¡§The Human Rights Act has enabled the Commission to deal with most complaints it received alleging discrimination against mothers attempting to breastfeed their children,¡¨ EEO Commissioner Judy McGregor said.

The Commission received six complaints related to breastfeeding since January 2002. Four of these were resolved through the Commission¡¦s dispute resolution process, which in some cases involved mediation. The fifth complaint was referred to the Ombudsmen¡¦s office and the sixth was Ms Weatherley¡¦s complaint, which was not progressed.

¡§Though the Human Rights Act has been able to address most complaints there were a number of ways that breastfeeding rights could be strengthened so as to eliminate the stigma that is sometimes associated with breastfeeding,¡¨ said Dr McGregor.

Some of these approaches include:

„X Increase support and healthcare resources on breastfeeding in the period immediately following birth, which is the crucial time when the decision is made to start breastfeeding or not;

„X Increased activities that help coordinate the various health, education, and policy initiatives in the area of breastfeeding;

„X Designate staff in Government agencies to explore ways in which breastfeeding can be further promoted and protected.

„X Undertake New Zealand-based research to investigate the rapid drop-off of breastfeeding that takes place between 5-6 weeks after birth (66%) and 4-6 months after birth (23%).

„X The development of a campaign to address the social stigma that surrounds breastfeeding through the communication of its benefits.

„X Promote the use of the Department of Labour¡¦s Employers Guidelines for Breastfeeding in the Workplace, which are currently being developed.

„X Draw more on the growing international thinking on the better promotion of breastfeeding.

Following the complaint made by Liz Weatherly the Commission developed a set of principles on breastfeeding that both it and other organisations could use to help protect breast feeding rights. These are:

„« A woman has a right to breastfeed and is protected from discrimination for breastfeeding under the HRA and international law;

„« A woman should be permitted to breastfeed where she and her child or children would otherwise be permitted to be;

„« The right to breastfeed should not be limited by any individual, group or party, unless that intervention is based on evidence of significant detriment to either the mother or child;

„« Breastfeeding should, generally, be considered to be in the best interests of the child but in most circumstances parents should be allowed to determine what is in the best interests of their child with respect to infant-feeding;

„« The approach to breastfeeding discrimination should encompass the view that breastfeeding mothers and their babies form an inseparable biological and social unit.

¡§The application of these principles to the work of Government, employers, educational institutions, and community sector agencies would help promote breastfeeding in New Zealand,¡¨ said Dr McGregor.

These principles will be discussed at a day-long forum planned for 5 May, which will be attended by human rights expert Professor George Kent from Hawaii.

Background Information

The Human Rights Act comprises 13 grounds, on which it is unlawful to discriminate against someone if the alleged discrimination takes place in one of the areas designated under the Human Rights Act. For the purposes of the Act breastfeeding falls under the ground of sex.

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