Although one does not wish to begin so early in a new year to seem to be critical of the current Government and our governance, the reality is that in whatever issue we are discussing, it points to the woeful inadequacy of the current administration.
Whether we continue to lament the pot holes that have taken over our roads or whether we choose to engage breastfeeding champion, Dr. Alison Bernard, all roads soon lead to the fact that the current administration set out an agenda for this country in 2008 and has meandered and ‘dipsy doodled’ over the fate of Barbadians.
In 2008, the Democratic Labour Party administration laid out a plan to introduce a Ministry of Family to the Barbadian governance structure to oversee some of the social engineering and ‘soft’ issues which needed to be addressed if we are to continue building a strong Barbados. The Ministry has not materialized and several of the issues which it was to confront, continue
When I heard the plea of Dr Bernard to give Barbadian mothers more time to breastfeed their newborns, her call brought me back to the lack of movement on the Ministry of Family.
Additionally, the Democratic Labour Party administration promised to expand day care facilities in Barbados so that mothers had closer access to their wards during the day. This is another promise which has not been realized by the current administration.
I wholeheartedly support Dr Bernard’s call for attention to be paid to the concept of maternity leave. Let us not dismiss the discussion simply because of the price tag component of the initiative. Perhaps we will not get to six months of maternity leave in the short term but I certainly believe that getting day care centres established in closer proximity to workplaces and granting lactating mothers breaks during the day to feed their wards, is an easy and non-disruptive start in the right direction.
The Government recently added two spanking new office complexes in the Warrens area. No space was allocated to having an on-site daycare facility. This was extremely unfortunate. Such a facility would allow lactating mothers to be close to their wards. Mothers can return to work and breastfeed simultaneously.
Broader than the physical access for breastfeeding, though, is the general perception that we still have of parents and the obligations of parenting. We are still stuck in the plantation mentality about children being distractions and burdens to employees who lose time and effort when parents parent. Many mothers and fathers are currently neglectful of their children because of the restrictions placed on them by workplaces.
Several mothers and fathers leave their children on school steps early or return for them late into the evening because they are not allowed time to collect their wards or get them to school. This is why I am excited that Dr Bernard has started the conversation around parental rights and responsibilities.
We know that one of the factors in youth crime on the island is low parental involvement and support. Therefore, it stands in the national interest to reshape views about parental responsibility and how parents can scaffold their children from breastfeeding through to choosing colleges to attend after secondary school. These are the types of changes we must make to break the back of crime in Barbados.
Those who start at the point of the cost and dismiss the initiative as unfeasible miss several points. Barbados is signatory to many conventions which consider the rights of children and women. As early as 1990, the United Nations had sanctioned the Innocenti Declaration which supports exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of nutrition. Barbados is a full
27 years behind the sanction and the lag
Further, in conducting true cost benefit analysis, we would have to look at some of the social ills this move can address and determine whether we would not be saving money over the long term. Would it cost more for Barbados to keep expanding prison facilities or to provide mothers and babies with adequate time to bond?
The discussion, in my view, is most useful when it is paired with one about paternity leave. Fathers in Barbados must be encouraged to take responsibility for their offspring. Providing time for fathers to bond with their young babies and support their mothers in providing their early care is a step in a positive direction.
It would have been maximal for this discussion to be had within a wider one on other aspects of the family under the aegis of a programme set out by the Ministry of Family. A structured discussion stands to bring greater results than one that is piecemeal. Still, I applaud Dr Bernard for raising the issue as an important one on the national agenda.
(Marsha Hinds Layne is a full-time mummy and part time communications lecturer at the University of the West Indies. Email: [email protected]) http://loopassets.s3.amazonaws.com/thumbnails/image/alison_bernard.jpg