PHNOM PENH – Cambodia’s Government has ordered the country’s Health Ministry to “immediately prevent the purchasing and exporting of breast milk,” after reports that impoverished mothers were selling their milk to supplement their incomes.
The government has announced a total ban on the collection and export of human breast milk after it emerged poor women had been paid about US$7 a day to pump breast milk for export to the US.
The order halted US-based Ambrosia Labs from operating in the country on health and organ trafficking grounds.
It was reported that Ambrosia Labs under the name “Kun Meada Company” was aparantly purchasing mothers milk from mothers in the disadvantaged Phnom Penh suburb of Stung Meanchey for $7.00 a day and then sold it to American mothers at $20 per 5-oz. (150 ml) pack.
The company has previously stated in interviews that its business provided vital extra income for Cambodian mothers and encouraged them to continue breastfeeding, while helping to fill milk shortages in the U.S.
Critics of the controversial practice said it encouraged poor women to sell their milk, instead of give it to their babies, according to the BBC.
Debora Comini, a representative for Unicef Cambodia said in a statement that the trade was “exploiting vulnerable and poor women for profit and commercial purposes.”
Ms Comini warned exclusive breastfeeding rates in the country are already declining, contributing to increases in childhood malnutrition.
Three-quarters of newborns were breastfed for the first six months of life in 2010, but that figure declined to 65 percent in 2014.
“Supportive systems and policies are critical to ensure Cambodian mothers exclusively breastfeed their own babies until they reach six months of age, and continue breastfeeding at least five times a day after six months until a child reaches two years old,” she said.
“Any activity that reduces the likelihood of that happening is not in the interests of Cambodia’s children.”
She added that malnutrition remains a significant threat to Cambodian children, with 32% of under-fives stunted as a result of chronic malnutrition, 10% wasted from acute malnutrition and 24% underweight.
“Malnutrition causes approximately 4,500 child deaths annually, roughly a third of all child deaths in Cambodia,” Ms Comini said.
The charity worker argued non-commercial breast milk banks are vital to help babies whose mothers cannot feed them themselves, but said these facilities require careful management.
“Breast milk bank programs to help high-risk infants within the country are very important for the survival of Cambodia’s vulnerable children, particularly premature, orphaned or low-weight babies,” she said.
“Even where breastmilk programmes are intended to help at-risk children suffering from malnutrition inside Cambodia and not undertaken for commercial purposes, they must be managed properly so that every mother’s ability to breastfeed her own child is not affected.”
By Agence France-Presse (AFP)