Khyber Pakhtunkhwa still the only province lacking a law on breastfeeding

Photo: Ayesha Vellani/Save the Children 

This blog was originally posted by the EveryOne Campaign. Written by Adnan Sajid. 

World Breastfeeding Week 2014 was celebrated in August all over the world from the 1st to 7th. The week provided a platform to orient people on how about 800,000 under five child deaths can be prevented if all 0-23 month old infants are optimally breastfed.

Breastfeeding is beneficial both for mother and her children. Breastfed babies have lesser chances of asthma, childhood obesity, ear infections, eczema (atopic dermatitis), diarrhoea and vomiting, low respiratory infections, necrotizing enterocolitis (a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract in pre-term infants), sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and Type 2 diabetes. While mothers who breastfeed their children have lesser chances of breast cancer; breastfeeding assist mothers in healing following childbirth and getting back to their pre-pregnancy weight quicker.

In more than 175 countries worldwide, breastfeeding advocates celebrated the theme ‘Breastfeeding: A winning goal – for life’ highlighting that achieving the Millennium Development Goals (especially MDGs 4 and 5) requires more early, exclusive and continued breastfeeding.

EVERY ONE Pakistan commemorated the week with advocacy activities across the country. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a press briefing session was jointly organised by EVERY ONE and Child Rights Movement Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter at the Peshawar Press Club on August 7th. Then again on August 11th, EVERY ONE in collaboration with Child Rights Movement Khyber Pakhtunkhwa held an advocacy seminar for civil society organizations.

Both the events shared how Pakistan is the South Asian country with the lowest exclusive breastfeeding and highest bottle feeding rates. Over the last seven years, only a 0.6% increase has been seen in infants who are exclusively breastfed. According to the Demographic Health Survey, the overall percentage stood at 37.7 in 2012-13: Whereas, the percentage of bottle feeding rose from 32.1 in 2006-07 to 41% in 2012-13. Experts opined that the increasing trends in bottle feeding across the country were due to a lack of awareness.

In the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the percentage of exclusive breastfeeding is at 27%; percentage of infants ever breastfed is 96.5%; the timely initiation of breastfeeding is at 26.4%; while the continued breastfeeding rate at 12-25 months is 83.6% and at 20-23 months is 55%.

Civil society organisations at these advocacy events were urged to undertake strong lobbying in the form of social mobilization events, meetings with local body members, provincial legislators and the media to put pressure on the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to expedite legislation for breastfeeding similar to the other three provinces in Pakistan. The protection of children and their mothers from different diseases will be easily possible following the passage of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Protection of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Bill.

Dr. Qaisar Ali, Deputy Director Reproductive Health/Nutrition stated: Except Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where legislation is still pending, all provinces have adopted/passed provincial laws for the protection and promotion breastfeeding. Due to the absence of provincial legislation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the federal Protection of Breast-Feeding and Child Nutrition Ordinance 2002 is still applicable in the province. However, in the context of 18th Constitutional Amendment, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa should introduce provincial legislation keeping in view the provincial realties. Recently, after two and a half year delay, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Protection of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Bill has been sent to the provincial cabinet for a final nod; however, political will is needed for approval of the bill.

CRM members also urged the implementation of the breastfeeding and marketing code, improved breastfeeding counselling by healthcare providers, and a revision of the undergraduate curriculum with a greater emphasis on good infant and young child feeding practices. The creation of baby-friendly health facilities, behaviour change strategies to promote breastfeeding, the development of effective messages and counselling of women at all education levels was also urged.

Early marriages, the poor status of women, repeated pregnancies, poor maternal nutrition, food restrictions in pregnancies due to taboos/myths, and poor antenatal care were a few of the reasons cited for the poor breastfeeding practices among women in Pakistan.

CRM members also provided information on the MDGs and how they related to breastfeeding and infant young child feeding (IYCF) to showcase the progress made so far and key gaps in breastfeeding and IYCF; to call attention for stepping up actions to protect, promote and support breastfeeding as key intervention in MDGs and in the post 2015 era; and, to stimulate interest among young people of both genders to see the relevance of breastfeeding in today’s changing world.

A documentary on the breastfeeding practices in Pakistan was also launched at the advocacy seminar. Save the Children has always been at the forefront in advocating children’s rights and by launching this impressive documentary, we once again registered our concerns on deaths among children which can be prevented by breastfeeding practices in children.

It is the basic right of an infant to be breastfeed for at least two years. Exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months can strengthen the immunity of a child. It gives our babies the healthiest start that will last a life time. The choice to breastfeed is an investment in our babies’ future!

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