Letter to UNICEF
Ms. Ann Veneman
Sept 19, 2005
Dear Ms Veneman,
As a global citizen concerned with infant health, I noted with great appreciation your statement on the occasion of the 2005 World Breastfeeding Week indicating UNICEF's continued commitment to the implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Please allow me to quote your own words:
"UNICEF strives to create an environment that enables the best choices in infant and young child feeding practices by supporting the breastfeeding and complementary feeding efforts of partner countries and our NGO colleagues at three levels: improving national regulation and oversight, enhancing the knowledge and skills of health personnel, and increasing success in the community by providing support for each new mother to make the best choices in feeding her children".
It has since come to my attention that as of January 2006, UNICEF Headquarters plans to cease providing legal technical support to governments for the implementation of the International Code. The post in the Nutrition Section responsible for such assistance is to be abolished. I am writing to ask you to reconsider this matter because terminating this support would have a profoundly negative effect on the survival and healthy development of thousands upon thousands of infants and young children worldwide.
The implementation and monitoring of the International Code at national level is an essential contribution to the creation of an environment in which every mother can make the best choices about infant feeding. The Code helps to ensure that parents are provided with independent information on infant feeding and protected from commercial pressure. As policy makers seek to fulfill the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two thirds by 2015, effective and comprehensive restrictions on marketing practices in order to protect and support breastfeeding are imperative.
The HQ post is the only UNICEF venue that provides high-level legal and technical support to countries to initiate or improve national regulation for the marketing of breastmilk substitutes and related products. The abolition of this post would run counter to UNICEF’s mandate of reducing infant and young child mortality and malnutrition.
The recent adoption of policy documents such as the Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding (WHA, 2002), Framework for Priority Action on HIV and Infant Feeding, Operational Guidance on Infant Feeding in Emergencies, all calling for implementation of the International Code at national level, has further increased governments' expectations for sound legal technical assistance from UNICEF.
UNICEF is the only UN agency that is specifically referred to in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) as a UN body with a special role to foster the effective implementation of the Convention. Since 1997 the Committee on the Rights of the Child has recognized the International Code as an “appropriate measure” which governments should adopt in fulfillment of their obligations under article 24 of the CRC. This position of the CRC Committee further contributed to the demand for assistance with legal drafting and implementation of the Code.
UNICEF’s legal support has greatly contributed to the achievements that have been made in the difficult but vital area of Code implementation. To date, because of many collaborative efforts, 64 countries have adopted a law with most or many provisions of the Code in place while an additional 23 countries have draft legislation pending approval. Yet much remains to be done. In addition to bringing in new laws or other regulatory measures where none exist, legislation in many countries needs to be amended to include World Health Assembly Resolutions on infant and young child nutrition.
UNICEF’s role in helping policy makers and the public understand the complexity of the Code and Resolutions and why these protective measures are vital cannot be underestimated.
In 2006, the nutrition and health community will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the International Code, still frequently called the WHO/UNICEF Code. This will be an important opportunity to revitalize our thinking and strategizing about the best future contributions we can all make to realize the implementation of the Code. I sincerely hope that UNICEF, under your leadership, will contribute to this significant year by maintaining its legal support for this crucial policy tool that contributes so enormously to child survival.
I look forward to your reply.