The Scaling Up Nutrition Network (SUN), which represents more than fifty national and international civil society organisations and the SUN UN network, which represents four agencies, offered their congratulations to the government for recent workshops held to promote breastfeeding and the introduction of increased maternity leave.

In January, “Improving infant and young child feeding and maternity leave for working women in Cambodia” workshop was organised by the Council for Agriculture and Rural Development, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training.

In its recent statement, SUN also called for maternity leave to be increased from 13 weeks to 26, noting that a similar increase had seen excellent improvements in breastfeeding rates in neighbouring Vietnam.

The workshop highlighted the fact that approximately 70 per cent of girls and women over the age of 15 are members of the Kingdom’s workforce.

SUN added that the Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey 2021-2022 had highlighted alarming declines in breastfeeding rates, with early breastfeeding dropping from 66 to 54 per cent in the last decade. Exclusive feeding had gone from 74 to 52 per cent.

“As a partner in the network of nutrition promotion movement, we call on the Royal Government of Cambodia to raise the country’s current 13-week maternity leave limit to 26 weeks, or 180 days, in conformity with international recommendations. We also promote paternity time,” it continued.

It claimed that increasing paid maternity leave would increase the rate of breastfeeding, reduce infant mortality by up to 13 per cent and promote good relations between parents and children, which improves the growth and development of children.

“Through costs to the health care system, child mortality, and cognitive losses as a result of insufficient breastfeeding, Cambodia stands to lose $326.8 million annually (or nearly 2 per cent of gross national income),” it said.

“The cost of extending the 180-day maternity leave in the formal work sector is estimated to be less than a quarter of the economic costs incurred due to a lack of breastfeeding,” it added.

Health ministry secretary of state Prak Sophoan Neary expressed her support for increasing maternity leave for working mothers, in order to promote exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of a baby’s life, in line with the policies of Cambodia and the WHO.

“Lack of breastfeeding and the use of breast-milk substitutes, including formula, can put children at risk of a wide variety of healthcare challenges. It is critical that we study the viability of extending maternity leave for working mothers,” she said.