'BHEEM' - Breastfeeding to Harness, Evolve, Encourage Motherhood

Dr Ashwini Sirapanasetty Karache *

The world celebrates its Intemational Breastfeeding Week from 01 August 2022 to 07 August 2022 with the theme for the year 2022 "Step Up For Breastfeeding: Educate and Support". As per World Health Organization (WHO) & United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) "India, China, Nigeria, Mexico & Indonesia alone are responsible for more than 2,36,000 children deaths each year due to inadequate breastfeeding".

The development of young children is nowadays recognized as a Nation's concern and gains wide prominence across the world. Early childhood development spanning from birth to the age of 6 years is the period that sees the most rapid growth & development of the entire human lifespan. It is during this period, that the foundation of cognitive, physical, socio-emotional development, language & personalities are laid.

Diarrhoea & Pneumonia are two major causes of death in infants which can be prevented by breastfeeding. It is not only to protect the infants but it also reduces the risk of deaths in Indian women as breast & ovarian cancers are one of the leading causes for mortality in mothers.

Why not Breastfeeding Publicly ? A Thought Provoking Question!

According to Neuroscientist, Advocate for Global Harmony & Peace - Abhijit Kaskar, "It is true that breasts can induce sexual tension in men, but truer than that is the fact, that breasts are the primary & healthiest source of nutrition for the infants, so, if men can't use their higher mental faculty of self-restraint at the sight of breastfeeding at public places, then it's not the women who need to change their breastfeeding place, it's the men who need to work on their character."

In a rapidly developing country like India, women from higher sections of society do not prefer to openly breastfeed in public areas due to social stigma and patriarchal norms. In contrast, the women from middle and lower sections of society support and believe in this beautiful natural phase of open breastfeeding as a most sacred responsibility.

Breast milk not only provides immunity to infants but also promotes maximum growth & development of the child in early stage of life. Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees "The Right to Life & Personal Liberty" to every person (citizen or non-citizen) and only proper legal procedure can interfere with & restrict the right to life and personal liberty.

Over the years, through judicial interpretation the meaning of 'LIFE & PERSONAL LIBERTY' has expanded to include several specific rights. The Karnataka High Court has said that "Breastfeeding is an inalienable right of lactating mothers & this attribute of motherhood is a fundamental right protected under Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution of India".

Jurisprudence developed around Article 21 of the Constitution by the Supreme Court of India underlines the primary importance of early childhood development. Right to Food, Nutrition & Health has been judicially crafted as being part & parcel of the 'RIGHT TO LIFE' to which every citizen including a child is entitled to International Conventions and Policies

1. Early Child Development (ECD)& the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948 which represents the 1st Global expression of Universally Protecting Fundamental Human Rights, pronounced the special rights of the child for the first time by providing that "Motherhood & Childhood are entitled to special care & assistance. All children whether born in or out of wedlock shall enjoy the same social protection".

2. UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) was established to promote care for the children across the Nation. The declaration of the rights of the child, reaffirms the notion that "Mankind owes to the child the best that it has to give".

By United Nations General Assembly in 1959 this declaration further expanded into 10 principles out of which include "The right to social security, adequate nutrition, housing, recreation & medical services also special protection, opportunities & facilities to develop Physically, Mentally, Morally, Spiritually & Socially in healthy & normal manner & in conditions of freedom & dignity".

WHO's Health for All (HFA) Declaration 1978 - "It expressed the need to address improvement in nutrition of both mother & the child, to impart knowledge about nutrition in particular, proper feeding of children timely & nutrition of mothers during pregnancy and lactation and need for urgent action by all Governments, health workers & world community to protect & promote health for all".

A Perspective from an Amazonian Nation Article 227 of the Brazilian Constitution declares "It is the duty of the family, the society and the State to ensure children and adolescents with absolute priority, the right to life health, nourishment, education, leisure, professional training, culture, dignity, respect, freedom and family and community life as well as to guard them from all forms of negligence, discrimination, exploitation, violence, cruelty & oppression".

Few State Legislation Enactments

1. Assam Public Health Act 2010 specifically provides for a "Right to Health" (Section-5) this is a general right that will also cover the rights of young children & infants' nutrition, growth, development of young children in the under-6 years of age group.

2. Goa Children's Act 2003-Section 3(4) states that raising the level of nutrition and standard of living as well as the improvement to public health are among the state's primary duties is a "Right of a Child".

3. Madras Public Health Act 1939 provides for Maternity and Child welfare under Section 82 stating that "Every local authority shall be bound to carry out such measures pertaining to Maternity & Child Welfare".

A Dream Which Can Come True ! According to Swami Vivekananda, "There is no chance of the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on one wing".

The Indian Government has always been proactive to honour the motherhood and child by supporting through various health schemes like "Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakram (JSSK)".So, I believe as a Nation we need to introduce a new social reform scheme which willsupport open Breastfeeding to Harness, Evolve, Encourage the Motherhood (BHEEM).

About the writer

Dr Ashwini Sirapanasetty Karache is Obstetrics and Gynaecologist Surgeon and wife of Major Anil Kumar Sirapanasetty who is a Serving Army Officer currently residing in New Delhi. She is a nature enthusiast and believes in thought of "Harnessing the Humankind with Nature". She is a woman reformist and had organised many medical camps in remotest parts of Maharashtra serving the tribal women to encourage them for Contraceptives and Family Planning.

Her contribution to these true sentinels of the Nature is her choice and always believed in her values of service for mankind. Her works in the professional field has brought her laurels and awards like "International Best Researcher Award in the field of Obstetrics & Gynaecology" and her recent article on "Abortion Rights" have created a thought in many people. Her diversity in the medical field and also as a wife of a Uniformed Officer create limitless boundaries to think, assimilate and write.

* Dr Ashwini Sirapanasetty Karache wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at drashwiniksobgy21(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on August 13, 2022.

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