Thursday

Is the UK government backtracking on protecting breastfeeding in public?

There is an article in today's Independent newspaper in the UK by journalist Johann Hari entitled There is a smart drug – it's called breast milk.

This looks at pressures on mothers to stop breastfeeding in the UK and in other countries, such as Bangladesh, and refers people to Baby Milk Action for additional information.

The article also refers to a proposed law that is starting its journey through Parliament, called the Single Equality Bill. This was put out to consultation last year and the lead story then as now was about it apparently protecting the right of mothers to breastfeed a child up to one year of age in public. Though the situation is still unclear, this article prompted me to investigate what happened as a result of the consulation and it appears the now mothers are only protected breastfeeding babies up to 6 months of age.

Part of the problem is the bill put out to consultation did not mention breastfeeding at all.

Here is how the government's Equality Impact Assessment describes the relevant provisions: "The consultation document makes clear that the Government will comply with the relevant provisions of the Gender Directive by making it explicit that less favourable treatment on grounds of pregnancy and maternity in the provision of goods, facilities and services and housing is direct sex discrimination. This will provide clarity for goods and service providers and consumers/service users about what the law means. The consultation document also proposes extending protection to the exercise of public functions."

You can download the pdf of the Impact Assessment at:
http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/corporate/pdf/444257.pdf

As I explained last year, maternity was defined as having a child up to one year of age, so the interpretation being put on this in the government press release was that if a mother was breastfeeding her child of up to one year (or surely feeding in any way?) and asked to stop, this would be seen as discrimination on grounds of maternity. But breastfeeding does not appear in the bill. In our response we suggested that it should and that there should not be an age limit.

According to the information about the Single Equality Bill proposals on the website of the Leader of the House of Commons today: "The Government consulted on these and related proposals in 2007 and will publish its response shortly. Further consultation is planned on specific issues to be dealt with in regulations is planned [sic]." See:
http://www.commonsleader.gov.uk/output/page2438.asp

I have not been able to find the consultation response on the Communities website as yet, nor a revised draft Bill.

However, there does seem to have been some sort of change, judging from the briefing that journalists have received.

Last year the government's own press release was talking of the bill providing protection for breastfeeding in public for children up to one year of age. See:
http://nds.coi.gov.uk/Content/Detail.asp?ReleaseID=290924&NewsAreaID=2

Yet all the reports I have seen this time around are saying protection is for breastfeeding babies up to 6 months of age. Here are a couple of examples.

Daily Mail : 15 June 2008

Daily Mirror : 16 June 2008

So if these briefing are correct, in the past year the proposed time that mothers can breastfeed in public and be protect by the law has been halved to 6 months. In Scotland mothers are already protected feeding children up to two years of age, though it remains to be seen what impact the UK bill may have on this if there is a conflict between legislation.

We will have a clearer idea when the consultation response is released. In the meantime comments are welcomed on the site of the Leader of the House of Commons, who is Harriet Harman MP. Who also goes by the title of Minister for Women.

Click here if you wish to leave a comment calling for the period of protection to be extended.

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