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We can’t give half-year maternity leave because too many people need jobs — Opendi

Most nursing mothers often rush back to work too soon after giving birth for fear of losing their jobs if they stayed out too long

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RIGHTS | Giving nursing mothers six months of maternity leave is out of the question in the current economy because there are just too many people fighting for the same jobs, State Minister for Health Sarah Opendi has said.

Opendi, who was speaking in Parliament at the launch of the World Breastfeeding Week yesterday, said unemployment remains too high for most nursing mothers to take chances on their jobs by staying away too long.

“Many mothers have been troubled due to the tough competition in the job market,” Opendi said, adding that the situation is exacerbated by some employers who hardly give nursing mothers even four weeks (one month) for maternity leave.

Only 66% of children under six months are exclusively breastfed while 2% never get to enjoy exclusive breast milk from birth at all, the 2016 Demographic Survey and Health Report indicates.

The World Health Organisation standard recommends that newborn babies are fed exclusively on breast milk for the first six months but for working mothers especially in developing economies where the rate of joblessness is high, six months is a luxury and a sacrifice has to be made.

Minister Opendi appeared to hint as much on the issue of luxury when she cited the demand for jobs as the reason the government cannot afford to let nursing mothers take that much time with their babies.

She said it was easy to appreciate the dilemma of nursing mothers but “there are equally many women without jobs out there.”

According to the labour laws of Uganda, female employees, in addition to annual leave, are entitled to a period of sixty working days leave from work on full wages. The International Labour Organisation stipulates 90 working days of maternity leave.

The labour code prohibits termination of a nursing mother during maternity leave or pregnancy.

In case it happens, the matter should be reported to the district labour officer. If the female employee does not receive the required help from the labour officer, she can report the matter to the Labour Commissioner who is based in Kampala at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, the labour code says.

However, as often is the practice, the law and reality are two different things and application of the law is often driven by those with the powers.

Over the years, advocates of women’s rights and nutritionists have been demanding for revision of the maternity leave days, saying nursing mothers should be given six months of the leave.

In 2014, Dr Elizabeth Madraa, the president of Uganda Nutrition Action Plan, asked government to double maternity leave to six months so that mothers can exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months.

She argued that the current maternity leave period makes a number of mothers resort to mixed feeding because they are not given enough time to breastfeed.

But responding to the demands at the time, Workers MP Sam Lyomoki said government should not bend arguing that six months of maternity leave would make employers shun female employees.

“Demanding for six months will drive employers not to seek female employees who are in productive age,” Dr Lyomoki said.

Experts say that if a baby is not breastfed properly, this can easily lead to a low immunity, which can simply pave way for minor diseases.

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