During the Question Hour session of National Assembly, the Health Minister, Tandin Wangchuk, revealed that proper breast feeding given to infants for complete six months stands at 10.4 percent in Bhutan, which was at a lower global rank.
The opposition MP of Radhi-Sakteng, Jigme Wangchuk, questioned the Ministry of Health regarding the status of the maternity leave for working mothers and the nine months of flexi¬time on top of the three months of maternity leave.
The Health Minister did not give any definitive answers on the extension of the maternity leave. Instead, he stressed on the importance of breast feeding for six months without giving any other foods to the baby as recommended by WHO and UNICEF. He said the first six months are crucial for the baby to build immunity and to be well protected from any kind of diseases.
In a survey conducted by the health ministry on infant and young child feeding in 2008, the babies that were not provided with proper breast feeding for the first six months had noticeable problems such as stunted growth. “Height problem is 37 percent, and the problem underweight is 11 percent and wasting is 4.6 percent,” added the Health Minister.
Lyonpo also highlighted the dangers to a child if he or she is not breastfed for complete six months such as infant deaths caused by diarrhea or Tuberculosis.
“With proper breast feeding, a child gains good health in the future with good learning and thinking abilities due to the good nutrition provided within 1,000 days,” added the Health Minister.
As for the extension of maternity leave, Lyonpo said that the government has pledged to give maternity leave for nine months and he said for that the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS), the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) have discussed and submitted the proposal to the Cabinet.
Lyonpo said further discussions have to be done with the private sector, corporations and rural areas and also with the Cabinet. He said a careful study is being done to look into several combination of maternity and flexi-time such as, a maternity leave of six months with the flexi- time of six months or a maternity leave of five months with the flexi- time of seven months so that the baby is well fed and other one is four months of maternity leave and a flexi- time of seven months.
Every year around 14,000 women gives birth in Bhutan, and out of which two percent or about 280 are said to be civil servants and the rest are from the private sector, corporations and rural areas.