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PHNOM PENH – Talks to extend the maternity leave up to six months are about to start. The measure is seen as a way to reduce the risk of malnutrition in newborns.
On Jan. 31, the government will hold a national discussion in Phnom Penh to discuss the potential extension of maternity leave for pregnant women who have just given birth.
Hou Kroeun, deputy country director of children’s rights defense organization Helen Keller International, said the organization has observed that many female workers do not have much time to breastfeed according to the Health Ministry’s guidelines because they have to go to work.
“[Changing the law would] give mothers enough time to care for and breastfeed their babies from zero to six months in order to help reduce malnutrition in Cambodian children,” he said on Jan. 27 during a workshop on the treatment and care of children with acute and severe malnutrition.
Kroeun explained that if the mother does not practice breastfeeding and provides nutritious foods such as meat, fish, vegetables and supplements to the baby until six months to two years, the children can face malnutrition.
“The treatment and nutrition of children are very important because it reduces the number of malnourished children,” he said. “In addition, it makes children physically and mentally healthy, and the development of human resources in Cambodia is also good.”
The government has pledged to increase breastfeeding of children from zero to six months old by 80 percent by 2030. But so far, only half of the women follow such guidelines.
Kroeun said working women must be more supported to be able to breastfeed more.
According to a preliminary report by the Cambodian Demographic and Health Survey, about 50,000 children in Cambodia suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), which adds to the burden of illness and death in the under-five population. The growth of children is also limited.
In 2021-2022, only about 10 percent of malnourished children in Cambodia received treatment.
So far, expecting mothers are entitled to 90-day (about three months) maternity leave, as per article 182 of the Labor law. They shall receive half their wage if they have been working at least one uninterrupted year in the company.
Once back at work, they are only allowed to perform light work for two months.
Details of the new measure are not yet known and should start being discussed in the Jan. 31 meeting.
Originally written in Khmer for ThmeyThmey, this story was translated by Teng Yalirozy for Cambodianess.