Last week an 18-year-old Ugandan mother was imprisoned in Yarl's Wood, one of the UK Government's immigration detention centres. This is where people are kept prior to being deported if there application to stay in the UK has been rejected.
The mother, Janipher Maseko, was separated from her one-year-old daughter and three-week-old son, who she had been breastfeeding. While campaigning by Baby Milk Action and our partners has seen her reunited with her children there is much of concern about this case.
We were contacted by a partner organisation at the weekend. The message came to me as I was posting up pictures from the demonstration at Nestlé (UK) HQ. See:
We had been here before. We worked on two similar cases last year which the Home Office Minister responsible, Liam Byrne MP, said were isolated incidents. Breastfeeding mothers should not be separated from their infants. See:
On Monday, we posted a statement from Baby Milk Action on our website and asked people to send messages, while following up with our own contacts. This helped to generate media coverage. See The Guardian, 22 May 2007 at:
We do not know all the details of Ms Maseko's application to stay in the UK, or why it has been rejected, but she has been in a very vulnerable situation, being picked up by the police living rough with her young daughter, while pregnant. After giving birth she was soon after separated from her children and sent to Yarl's Wood.
The detention centres are controversial, being run by private companies for the government as part of a crack down on illegal immigration. There have been allegations about an overly tough regime exercised by the companies. See, for example, The Observer, 20 May 2007 at:
Separately from the rights and wrongs of the UK policy on treatment of failed asylum seekers and the merits of Ms Maseko's case, the conditions she has suffered do not recognise her rights or the rights of her children. Here is an extract from the letter from our Policy Director, Patti Rundall, to the Home Office (full letter on our website):
I find it very shocking that the officials in charge of this case seem to be showing no regard for or understanding of the needs and rights of the child or the mother and that Home Office Guidance continues to be ignored.
Baby Milk Action is the UK member the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) a network of over 200 citizens groups in over 100 countries and together the world’s health community we work to ensure that the critical value of breastfeeding and the importance of keeping mothers and babies together is recognised. Apart from its psychological importance, breastfeeding reduces the incidence of infectious diseases, chronic diseases and auto-immune diseases, offers optimal development and growth, cognitive and visual development and evidence suggests that it decreases the risk of obesity. The seven-year study carried out by the WHO shows that babies exclusively breastfed for six months are healthier and leaner than artificially fed babies.1 The benefits of breastfeeding extend throughout the whole life cycle. In the global context, breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding help fulfil the Millennium Development Goals and have the potential to reduce under-5 mortality by 19%.
The decision to separate Ms Maseko from her baby flies in the face of a number of UN Resolutions and conventions, including the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and the 12 subsequent WHA resolutions, the Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding, UNICEF’s Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative and the Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding, which all stress the critical importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life with nutritionally adequate and safe complementary feeding alongside continued breastfeeding up to the age of two years and beyond. Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child also recognizes the contribution breastfeeding makes to the fulfilment of the right of the child to the highest attainable standard of health.
Having raised the issue with politicians who were quick to act on the cases last year, action followed swiftly. At the beginning of the week it was agreed that Ms Maseko should have her children with her in a family unit.
Efforts have been made by breastfeeding counsellors to help her, enduring the rigorous security checks and searches to be able to visit her to help her re-establish breastfeeding.
There are questions being asked over Ms Maseko's asylum application and the way it has been rejected and a deportation order arranged.
What we can be sure of, is that a mother should not be separated from her children in this way.
The authorities have acted to reunite the family after being contacted, but the situation should never have arisen.
If you wish to write to the authorities appealing for them to ensure systems are strengthened so the same does not happen again, you will find contact details on our website. If you do write, please be polite. See: