Extend maternity leave — First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo

The First Lady, Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo, has called for the extension of maternity leave from the current three months to a minimum of three-and-a-half months.

That, according to her, would be consistent with provisions in the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO’s) Maternity Protection Convention, to which Ghana is a signatory.

She made the call when she launched this year’s World Breastfeeding Week on the theme: “Sustaining breastfeeding together,” in Takoradi over the weekend.

Under Ghana’s Labour Law, women are entitled to 12 weeks or 84 working days of maternity leave with full pay, but the ILO Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 stipulates that martenity leave should be at least 14 weeks.

ILO Convention 183

The ILO Maternity Protection Convention No.183 provides for a minimum of 14 weeks of maternity leave for women. The convention states that women who are absent from work on maternity leave shall be entitled to a cash benefit, which ensures that they can maintain themselves and their child in proper conditions of health and with a suitable standard of living and which shall be not less than two-thirds of their previous earnings or a comparable amount.

It also requires ratifying states to take measures to ensure that a pregnant woman or nursing mother is not obliged to perform work which has been determined to be harmful to her health or that of her child and provides for protection from discrimination based on maternity.

It also prohibits employers from terminating the employment of a woman during pregnancy or absence on maternity leave, or during a period following her return to work, except on grounds unrelated to pregnancy, childbirth and its consequences or nursing.

It further states that women returning to work must be allowed to occupy the same position or an equivalent position paid at the same rate.

The convention also provides a woman the right to one or more daily breaks or a daily reduction of hours of work to breastfeed her child.

Declining breastfeeding rates

Mrs Akufo-Addo bemoaned the decline in breastfeeding and urged nursing mothers to give their babies the best start in life by breastfeeding them for as long as necessary.

A report by the Ghana Health Service (GHS) indicates that only 52 per cent of Ghanaian mothers exclusively breastfeed their children and, in the view of the First Lady, that suggested “that a large number of Ghanaian babies are deprived of the major nutritional, health and psychological benefits of breastfeeding.”

She noted that breast milk provided children with the right nutrition and protection needed, especially in the early stages of their lives.

She said it was important for mothers to know that breastfeeding was a God-given process specifically designed to enhance a baby’s growth and development and that there was no substitute comparable to breast milk.

“The health benefits of breastfeeding do not just last during infancy but are sustained throughout childhood, adolescence and into adulthood as well,” she said.

Mrs Akufo-Addo called for “a strong partnership made up of the government, health partners, health practitioners, communities, non-governmental organisations, the media and civil society to advocate and help create an utmost protective and supportive environment exclusively for breastfeeding” in order to achieve at least the goal of 80 per cent of all babies born in Ghana exclusively breastfed by 2021.

Five-point action plan

In a five-point action plan, the First Lady underscored the need for improved support systems and the creation of a conducive environment for women to breastfeed their babies at their workplaces, in the markets, homes, communities and at social gatherings.

The plan advocates the enforcement of laws on marketing of breast milk substitutes to end persistent violations of this law and protect exclusive breastfeeding.

It also underscores the need for the development of breastfeeding promotional messages and communication campaigns to improve knowledge about the benefits and address negative perceptions about breastfeeding.

Mrs Akufo-Addo also encouraged all well-meaning individuals and institutions to become advocates of breastfeeding to ensure that every child born in Ghana was given the chance to survive, grow and develop into a healthy and strong citizen.

The UNICEF Country Representative, Ms Rushnan Murtaza, in a remark, said breastfeeding benefited not only children but also mothers, as recent studies had shown that breastfeeding reduced the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women.

She said the UN saw breastfeeding as a critical and key investment, as well as the best foundation countries could make in human resource development.

She, therefore, called for closer collaboration to invest and promote new ways and partnerships to support breastfeeding, saying, “Breastfeeding is, indeed, the best.”

The Omanhen of the Essikado Traditional Area, Nana Kobina Nketsia V, who chaired the launch, said no man-made formula would serve as a better substitute for breast milk and, therefore, urged women to ensure exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of birth.

He said investing in formulas and natural milk substitutes only increased the financial burden on families, while compromising on the health of children under five.