Sunday, 8 June 2014
Babies vs. U.A.E. by Naomi Elana Zener
“All rise. The Honourable Judge Preston Al-Shabab, presiding,” the court bailiff announced. His Honour entered the courtroom, clad in traditional long black judge’s robes.
“Please be seated,” Judge Al-Shabab instructed. “Today, the court will hear the case against the government of the United Arab Emirates and the La Leche League, brought by Mrs. Al-Breastwalla on behalf of all women and babies in the United Arab Emirates. In order to make it easier for everyone, since all of the parties’ names are so long, I will refer to the plaintiff as Mrs. AB, the government as U.A.E. and the La Leche League as the ‘League.’ I see that the complaint is about the U.A.E.’s Federal National Council’s Child Rights law, which requires mothers to breastfeed their babies until the age of two. Mrs. AB’s claim is that the law is unconstitutional, as it violates the basic human rights of both mothers and babies.”
The parties’ silence was a tacit acknowledgment that the judge was up to speed on the matter at hand.
“Counsel for Mrs. AB please deliver your opening remarks,” instructed the judge.
“Thank you your Honour. As you know, it is now a legal requirement in the UAE that women breastfeed their babies until they are at least two years of age or face the threat of being sued by their husbands should they fail or refuse to do so. Mrs. AB has brought suit on behalf of all of the women and babies in the U.A.E., because this latest attempt to subjugate the rights of women is a further violation of women’s rights, but moreover it represents a flagrant disregard for babies’ basic physical and mental welfare. We intend to prove this through Mrs. AB’s direct testimony. The League has been named as a codefendant in this matter because their ‘breast is best’ policy endorses the government law, and it too should be held to account for subverting a woman’s right to choose to or not to breastfeed.”
Plaintiff’s counsel sat down, the judge nodding his head in the direction of the defense table to make their opening statement.
“Your honour, the government denies having committed any and all human rights abuses or violations against women. The new law is simply designed to ensure a healthy mother-child bond. It is in every baby’s best interest to be breast fed for breast milk provides them with their best start in life. These allegations levied against the government are without merit, and this case should be dismissed at once.”
The U.A.E.’s defense counsel returned to his seat. The League’s counsel did not stand to address the court.
“Does the League have anything to add?” the judge inquired.
“Not at this time, your Honour. For the record, our position is simply that breast is best.”
Upon the conclusion of the opening remarks, Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer stood.
“We call Mrs. Abdulla Al-Breastwalla, or Mrs. AB for short, to the stand. She will be our only witness.”
Into the courtroom strode a petite black ghost of a woman, shrouded in the mystery of her floor-length heavy black burkha. Marching past the defense counsel’s table defiantly, she walked over to the witness stand and took her seat.
“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you Allah, or face stoning?” the bailiff asked.
“Mrs. AB, than you for coming here today…” her lawyer began.
“Your honour, we strenuously object to this witness testifying,” counsel for the U.A.E. announced.
“On what grounds?” the judge asked.
“We can’t see her face. We have a right to see the face of our accuser,” the defense advised.
“Someone’s been watching a little too much Law & Order. These aren’t criminal proceedings. Your client is not being accused of committing a crime per se. Besides, this is the Middle East. Out of respect for her husband and Islam, she has a right to keep her face covered,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer advised.
“I’m afraid that the plaintiff’s lawyer is right. Objection overruled.”
“Now, Mrs. Al-Breastwalla, please tell the court why you filed this lawsuit,” her lawyer continued.
“You already covered the basic reason for my lawsuit today. This law violates the rights of women and children, period.”
“How does the law do this?”
“It presumes that all babies need or want to be breastfed. It fails to consider the plight of those women who suffer from post-partum depression for whom breastfeeding causes them feelings of extreme anxiety or self-harm. It ignores the women whose milk hasn’t or won’t come in, but is forcing them to have cracked and bleeding nipples for naught, when formula will give their babies the best start in life. It disregards the agony of those babies with lactose intolerance or who have a milk allergy. For them, drinking their mother’s milk will cause their intestines to contort with excruciating pain,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla explained. “These poor unsuspecting victims are force fed against their will. By having a breast shoved in their mouths that expels a substance into them causing them to be tormented by their own fermenting rotten-egg smelling flatulence and diarrhea is inhumane. All of these babies and their long-suffering mothers need a voice. I am their voice.”
“But, not every child suffers from these problems described. Nor does every woman for that matter. How does this law harm healthy women and babies?” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer pressed.
“Let me ask you something. Have you ever been forced to wear a burkha? Not only is the fabric heavy and non-breathable, but it also drapes like a giant sheet suffocating the babies forced to be fed underneath it. Those conditions are inhumane,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla explained.
“I object your honour. The burkha is not on trial here,” counsel for the U.A.E. said.
“No, it’s not, but women are compelled to wear them out in public. With the mandatory requirement that women breastfeed, given babies’ unpredictable feeding schedules, you’re forcing these children to be stuck inside furnaces, when temperatures here in the U.A.E. are already extremely high. This law is as negligent as a parent leaving a kid locked in a car on a hot day. The conditions under which babies are forced to be breastfed inside of a burkha are salient to my line of questioning,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer stated.
“I’ll allow it,” ruled the judge.
“As you just said, being under a burkha is like sitting inside a sauna without relief. We’re not just wearing lingerie under there. We’re fully clothed. Add another human to the mix of post-partum hormones raging at full blast, and we start to sweat. Then there’s the heat of the Middle East bearing down upon us. It’s like having Niagara Falls flow from our breast and armpits. All that heat and sweat create a breeding ground for bacteria. How is that healthy for any child? It isn’t. Then add the stress of trying to ensure a proper latch when you can’t see down inside the burkha because there’s no interior lighting that comes with them. If post-partum depression wasn’t a problem in the U.A.E. before this law, the incidence of women trying to hurt themselves, and Allah forbid, their babies, will shoot through the roof.”
“Basically, what you’re telling the court is that this law will result in physical, emotional, and mental problems and harm for both mother and baby? So instead of forging the mother-child bond, it will destroy it?”
“Absolutely. And, the problem only gets worse as the child gets older and is walking. Do you have any idea how many times the wrong kid has tried to go home with me thinking that I’m his or her mother because they couldn’t see my face? Think of all of those walking toddlers under the age of two who will waddle up to lift the curtain looking for a nice body temperature meal only to discover that they’ve latched onto a stranger’s breast? What if that stranger isn’t a breastfeeding woman and not even a mother? That’s assault. This law could also result in kidnapping charges against women if a child who is not theirs lingers too long under their burkha. Forget kidnapping, a woman could be charged with false imprisonment. The list of harm that this law causes is endless,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla advised.
“Your honour, the plaintiff rests,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer advised.
“Your witness,” the judge offered to the U.A.E.’s lawyer.
“Thank you. Ma’am, do you have children?”
“How old are they?”
“One is 3 months old and the other is twenty months old.”
“And, do you breastfeed them?”
“Objection, your honour. How can she be expected to answer that question? If she discloses that she doesn’t, her husband can sue her. This is a public proceeding after all,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer countered.
“Does your husband know that you’re here today testifying against the government?”
“Objection! Again, to answer this would subject my client to possible retribution from her husband,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer advised.
“Then she shouldn’t be testifying here today,” the U.A.E.’s lawyer advised.
“Sustained. Direct and limit your cross-examination to why the law is unconstitutional. The law is on trial, not Mrs. Al-Breastwalla,” the judge ruled.
Running out of questions, having believed that the judge was going to dismiss the case before opening statements, the U.A.E.’s lawyer searched the League’s counsel’s face for some help, only to have his eyes meet a stonewalled gaze.
“Um, your honour, could you grant us a one day recess to retain and expert witness to counter Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s testimony?” the government lawyer begged.
“No. You waltzed into my court unprepared despite everyone else coming here today with their completed homework in hand. You made it clear that your position was that the case has no merit. Had you prepared, perhaps you would’ve known that arguments existed to support the claim that the law is unconstitutional. I take it that the U.A.E. rests its case?”
The U.A.E. lawyer hung his head.
“Does counsel for the League wish to cross-examine Mrs. Al-Breastwalla?” the judge asked.
“No, your honour. We maintain our stance that breast is best.”
“Given that there are no more witnesses to hear from, do any of you esteemed lawyers wish to make a closing statement?”
All three lawyers shook their heads.
“In that case, I’m prepared to render my ruling. As a Harvard trained lawyer and judge, and a moderate Muslim, I returned to the U.A.E. hoping to evoke change and usher the country’s judicial system into the twenty-first century. I respect that we live in a Muslim country, but I preside over a secular court. I find this new law to be abhorrent and offensive. To impose an obligation on a woman to breastfeed their children under the threat of judicial sanction levied against them by her husband, is a total violation of women’s rights. Women are more than mere vessels to do their husbands’ bidding, procreate and be a food supply for their children. It’s time for the government of the U.A.E. to enter the twenty-first century. I find this law to be unconstitutional and must be struck down immediately. And, to the La Leche League, I hope you learned here today that breast is not always best. As a woman’s organization, you ought to be ashamed of yourself appearing here today in support of the U.A.E.’s law. Court is adjourned.”
Judge Al-Shabab hammered his gavel, signaling the end of the proceedings.
“We’ll be appealing the ruling,” the U.A.E. lawyer informed Mrs. Al-Breastwalla and her lawyer.
“Good luck with that.”
“Where the hell were you throughout all of this? Some help you turned out to be,” the U.A.E. lawyer spat at the League’s lawyer. “You couldn’t even get the president of your own organization to attend today’s proceedings and testify in support of the law.”
The League’s lawyer, Mrs. Al-Breastwalla and her lawyer watched the U.A.E. lawyer storm out of the court.
“Well, I think that went really well, don’t you?” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer asked his client.
“Indeed. I couldn’t agree with you more,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla advised, removing her burkha to reveal her true identity as the president of the La Leche League.
© 2014. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.