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Better business practices for children

© UNICEF Kenya/2010/Otieno
Caroline Kariuki signs the statement of commitment on behalf of employers. UNICEF Representative Olivia Yambi (left), Sweden’s Ambassador Ann Dismorr and private sector representatives witnessed the signing.

By Pamella Sittoni

NAIROBI, 9th September, 2010 -  Kenyan employers today signed a commitment to embrace better businesses practices for children by providing support for breastfeeding mothers at the workplace.

About 30 employers, under the auspices of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), committed to comply with the statutory 14 weeks maternity leave under the Kenyan Employment Act and to review workplace policies on flex time, including providing short breaks to express milk, to support women who are exclusively breastfeeding. Ms Caroline Kariuki the Chief executive Officer of KEPSA signed the commitment on behalf of the Alliance.

The “Better Business Practices for Children” is a joint initiative between UNICEF, the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation and the Kenya Private Sector Alliance.

As part of the commitment, the employers also pledged to promote and support exclusive breastfeeding for babies for the first six months, through workplace sensitization. They will also provide a designated clean private area for mothers to express breast milk or breastfeed their babies, as well as a supportive environment, including appropriate furniture and access to clean water and soap to clean storage items.

UNICEF Representative Olivia Yambi said the initiative would help to ensure parents gave their children the best start in life.  “Ensuring every child receives the best start in life, through exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, has several benefits for the baby, the mother and the country. It will reduce child deaths by about 11,000 in a year, thus optimizing the capacity of the future workforce of Kenya. It will also enhance workforce retention and boost workplace performance,” she added.

Ms Yambi said Kenya’s exclusive breastfeeding rate of 32 per cent was still too low and contributed to the high rates of neonatal deaths.  “For where we are, we really have to run in order to catch up with the rest,” she said.
She congratulated all the private sector partners who signed onto the commitment, noting that providing the right support to women to fulfill their mandate of breastfeeding their babies would result in happy families.

The occasion was graced by the Sweden’s Ambassador to Kenya, Mrs Ann Dismorr, who talked about the benefits her country had reaped from giving mothers a year’s maternity leave to stay at home and breastfeed their children. She challenged the country to review its workplace policies to allow for flexible hours for mothers to be able to breastfeed their children.

“It takes a village to raise a child. In the context of the workplace, women need to be supported to provide their children the best nutrition they require. This is a rights issue. We are talking about the right to survival and development.”

The Minister for Public Health and Sanitation, Mrs Beth Mugo, in a speech read by a representative, called on all employers to support the initiative by providing mothers with the right environment to breastfeed their babies during breaks.

During the launch of the initiative, representatives companies which are already providing these opportunities and facilities for their employees shared the best practice and urged their colleagues to follow suit.

Safaricom, the country’s leading mobile phone service provider, showcased its employment policies, which include comprehensive maternity insurance cover, flexi working hours and state-of-the-art facilities for breastfeeding.
“We are asking other companies to provide these services for their employees and they will see the benefits,” said Ms Pauline Warui, Chief Customer Service Officer at Safaricom.

The Genral Motors Chief Executive Officer, Mr Bill Lay asked all employers to “simply do the right thing”, by adopting the components of the Better Practices for Children commitment. “If you are running a company, and you are not providing facilities for children to breastfeed their babies, you don’t know what you are doing,” he said.

The event was symbolically marked in the month of the Young Women Entrepreneurs.




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