Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
A LUSAKA maid aged 29 has been arrested after she was found breastfeeding her boss’s one-month-old baby.
Breastfeeding another person’s baby is bad enough, but worse still, the nanny in question is allegedly HIV-positive.
According to Zambia Police Service spokesperson Esther Katongo, the maid was found breastfeeding the infant by its father, who obviously walked in when she least expected him to do so. This happened last Friday around 13:00 hours.
According to the police, this family already knew that their maid was HIV-positive, so when she was caught breastfeeding their baby, they got terrified.
A test was then done on the baby and the woman in question and it confirmed that the maid was HIV-positive, while the newborn was found HIV-negative.
It is not known how many times the maid had breastfed the infant, but obviously they have to retest the baby after three months to confirm its HIV status.
The maid in question, of ZNS Airport Farms, was charged with negligent act likely to spread infection.
Immediately this news broke on Sunday, people, especially mothers, expressed outbursts of shock, anger and fear, while others went on about how they wouldn’t hire a nanny whose HIV status they did not know.
As a mother who depends on domestic workers to take care of my children while I work, I was equally terrified. I am still scared actually. For us in the media industry, the nature of our work requires us to work after hours, on weekends and public holidays, including Christmas and New Year. So there is no way you could avoid the services of a nanny, whether you like it or not.
There are many other mothers with similar work schedules in the medical field, aviation industry, hospitality, mining and engineering sectors as well as those working for chain stores like Shoprite, Game and Pick n’ Pay. The women in all these fields leave their babies in the hands of nannies for long hours.
Generally every working woman, be it a teacher or self-employed marketeer, shop owner or cross-border trader, needs someone to take care of her children while on duty.
If one’s nature of work can’t allow them to work with their baby, then they need a babysitter.
The longer the hours of work and period of a mother’s absence from home, the more dependent they are on domestic workers. And, of course, the more vulnerable to abuse the children who are left in the care of child-minders are.
Sometimes I tend to think that children that are raised by full-time housewives or non-working mothers are lucky because they get the best of motherly love and care.
It is a well-known fact that children of working mothers don’t have it easy when their parents go for work.
Quite alright relatives can help to take care of children, but from my experience, there is a limit to which they could do this because they need free time to live their lives, so you can’t confine them to your house 24/7.
L o o k i n g a t the numbers of working women nowadays, you can image how many mothers are worried about the well-being of their babies after news of an HIV-positive nanny reportedly breastfeeding a baby filtered through.
To make matters worse, tales of nannies breastfeeding babies are not new. Stories have been told about how some of the domestic workers cannot tolerate ‘troublesome babies’ – the type that can cry and set you on your feet dancing to calm them down.
It is believed that some maids will breastfeed such babies for the sake of peace.
And because babies love breastmilk and the person who breastfeeds them, the nanny will not have to endure the tantrums of an angry baby when its mother is not home.
This is the reason why some people are scared of hiring breastfeeding women as nannies, whether or not they are HIV-positive. There is just this fear that the care-giver may breastfeed the baby when the mother is away.
Some women have actually been expressing those fears on Mwebantu after the 29-year-old woman who was allegedly caught breastfeeding her employer’s baby was arrested.
Some women are saying they can’t employ breastfeeding women as nannies, while others say they make it a point to know the HIV status of their nanny.
I know HIV/AIDS activists will cry foul that people are discriminating against people living with HIV and AIDS, but for their information, this is happening.
Well, I personally spoke to Prisca M a k a n d o , proprietor of Muchelu Maid in Lusaka, who has been doing this business for 15 years.
Mrs Makando says the HIV f a c t o r i s something they deal with at her maid centre quite often.
S h e s a y s people generally d o n ’t m i n d hiring HIV-positive maids, but many are unwilling to engage them as nannies. The difference is that nannies are hired to take care of children, while maids normally do common house chores. Some domestic workers though play double roles of maid and nanny, depending on a client’s needs.
According to Mrs Makando, some clients demand that the candidate undergoes a full medical test before being hired as a nanny. Some job seekers do agree to undergo medical tests, while others refuse. She says some of her clients will never hire a nanny if she refuses to under-go a medical test, and they make that precondition very clear.
Mrs Makando’s maid centre does not compel its job seekers to do medical tests to get a job. However, they encourage them to do so because it is a good practice for anyone.
She says she understands the fears of her clients because domestic workers come from diverse backgrounds.
What Mrs Makando shared is something people will not discuss publicly for fear of a public backlash, but it is happening. If you talk to maids, they will tell you that a few irresponsible child-minders are spoiling their chances of getting employed because employers think every breastfeeding nanny is potentially dangerous to an infant.
One day when I was looking for a nanny, a candidate I met told me a lot of a good things about herself; she was a Christian; had no record of stealing from previous employers (even offered phone number of former boss) and that she loved children and wherever she had worked, kids loved her too.
Then she went on to say that she had a 20-months-old baby, but I needed not to worry because she had already weaned him.
Pretending not to know, I asked her why she had to mention that, and she said some people did not want to hire breastfeeding nannies.
She told me that a friend of hers was fired after her boss discovered that she was breastfeeding, despite her being HIV negative.
Her boss blatantly told her that she could not hire a breastfeeding woman to take care of her baby because some nannies had a habit of breastfeeding their bosses’ babies.
In my view, not all domestic workers are bad – some will take good care of babies regardless of their HIV status, and whether or not they are breastfeeding. Others though, are capable of committing abominable acts against other people’s babies.
So then what’s my opinion on people hiring HIV-positive women as nannies? I think every mother should make her own decision, depending on how she feels about this issue.
If she’s comfortable hiring an HIV-positive nanny, then it’s fine. There are so many good hearted and responsible people out there, regardless of their HIV statuses.
And if one is not comfortable with an HIV-positive nanny, it is also fine, their wish must be respected.
I think it’s all about a mother making a decision that will give her a peace of mind while she is at work.
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Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA