Amid falling breastfeeding rates in Cambodia, garment workers are pushing for nurseries and community kindergarten to be set up near their factory. This is in light of reports that breastfeeding promotes maternal and infant health, and higher productivity.
UNICEF, World Vision International and their partners have warned of a sharp decline in the rate of breastfeeding in Cambodia, which was revealed in the latest Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey 2021-2022.
Breastfeeding is one of the best strategies to avoid malnutrition and guarantee children’s healthy growth and development, WHO and UNICEF said. “Mothers who breastfeed had fewer chances of developing breast and ovarian cancer, among other health advantages.”
A worker at Can Sport Shoes in Kampong Chhnang Province, Thy Sophany, 32, told CamboJA that kindergartens or breastfeeding rooms nearby factories would create a good environment for mothers and children. This would also help mothers focus on the production line.
“Mothers can meet their children twice a day which would make them feel at ease and stay focused at work. In addition, they would have a suitable place to breastfeed and ensure their children’s health,” said Sophany.
If the factory owner builds a nursery with proper facilities including a good environment, equipment and by hiring a nanny, workers would be convinced to leave their children there. However, her factory has not set up a nursery yet. To see this happen, it also needs support from the government.
“It is good to have a nursery near the factory, but the factory owner and government should support workers. Workers will feel less worried about their children. At the same time, children will become healthy,” said Sophany.
In establishing a nursery, the factory owner must adhere to the labor law. The government should also provide more support and safeguard the welfare of garment workers, she said. “It should be [done] according to the law and with the safety of workers in mind.”
According to a study by the International Labor Organization Office for Asia and the Pacific, 10 out of 10 women interviewed said the factory did not set up a nursery while two mentioned that it was not allowed in the factory.
Nurseries with caregivers located near factories enable working mothers to take advantage of the facility, so that the latter are able to work overtime, the study showed.
Another worker, Lyna, 27, of Star Shoes factory in Kampong Speu province said some workers who leave their children with their parents do not feel good doing so because they think that their parents might not look after their kids well. So, having a nursery near the factory will help workers a lot.
“The majority of us leave our children with our parents. So, it is good if we have a kindergarten [nearby],” said Lyna.
A garment worker at U and Y located in Kandal province, Lor Sreymom, 32, said she supports the idea of setting up a nursery because it benefits workers and would support them after they give birth. There are no nurseries or kindergartens near her factory as yet.
“Naturally, workers leave their kids with their parents, but if the nursery has a good environment and a nanny to look after the kids, we will have more time to work and have no worries,” Sreymom said.
Textile, Apparel, Footwear and Travel Goods Association in Cambodia deputy secretary-general Kaing Monika told CamboJA that establishing a nursery near the factory area to support working mothers is a good thing.
“It will greatly facilitate the workers,” he said, adding that in the past, factories faced problems in setting up this nursery due to a shortage of professionals and budget.
He also recalled that there were no community nurseries and kindergartens, noting that he would do his best to participate in their setting up in accordance with the government policy.
Kata Orn, spokesperson of the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training told CamboJA that in a previous project, they cooperated with partners to build 13 nurseries in two provinces.
At the moment, the ministry is scouting for places to build nurseries. It was important that the nursery is near the factory zone but not in the factory as it might affect the children.
“We want to have a nursery and community kindergarten with standard, so that workers are less worried when their children stay in the nursery and study at the kindergarten,” said Orn.
While the plan to build nurseries or kindergartens exists, the ministry continues to seek cooperation from partners and business owners because the government needs some investment to make it successful.
“We need investors. Let us see if the employer has the budget to allocate for workers and if our ministry or the government has any budget for this. So, we are still in the process of deciding and advertising to all factories.”
Say Sokny, secretary-general of Federation of Free Trade Unions, observed that not many factories have fully functioning nurseries or kindergarten near their workplace.
“This [issue] is not only evident in garment factories, but in other workplaces where workers don’t have a breastfeeding room,” Sokny told CamboJA.
According to Article 184 of the Labor Law, in the first year of childbirth, mothers are entitled to breastfeed their infants up to one hour a day during working hours.
Article 186 states that directors of enterprises with more than 100 workers should also set up nursing rooms for women with small children.
Mothers can choose to have the one-hour period divided into two 30-minute sessions in the morning and afternoon, at a time agreed with her employer. In the absence of consent, hours shall be taken at the end of each working hour.
“The law is good but from what I heard from workers, most of the female workers leave their children with their grandparents at home so that they can go to work easily because factories don’t have [a nursery],” said Sokny.
Cambodia is committed to increasing the rate of breastfeeding by 85% for infants and children between zero and six months by 2030.
From January 2018 to October 2023, there were 400,000 female workers who gave birth, according to a video produced by Central, based on a report by the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training.
The government should set up nurseries and kindergartens near the factories, as the number of female workers is large, therefore it would benefit workers in the long-term and is in line with national and international law, Central said.
Following a meeting with garment workers in August 2023, Prime Minister Hun Manet instructed the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training and other ministries to draw up an action plan in the next two years to establish community nurseries and kindergartens in the manufacturing area.
In an email to CamboJA, Ty Chan, UNICEF communications officer, said in Cambodia, national level breastfeeding rates have dropped significantly from 74% in 2005 to 50% in 2022.
It is worth noting that with the increasing number of women in the Cambodian workforce, with around 70% of them comprising working women aged 15 and above, an enabling environment that supports breastfeeding is crucial.
“UNICEF, WVI and other development partners are collaborating with the government to focus on policy changes, infrastructure development, and community engagement to improve breastfeeding practices and the overall well-being of mothers and infants,” Chan added.
This post is also available in: Khmer