Women in the United Arab Emirates must breastfeed their children, or their husbands could sue them, according to new legislation passed this month.
It requires all able Emirati women to breastfeed their children for at least two years.
The Federal National Council included a clause in the new Child Rights Law which states that it is a human right for a child to be breast fed, and that nursing is now mandatory.
However, the UAE’s Minister of Social Affairs, Mariam Al Roumi, said the fact that breastfeeding is now forced upon women, could lead to husbands suing their wives if they do not follow the law. ‘This part of the law can be a burden,’ Ms Al Roumi told The National. ‘If the law forced women to breastfeed, this could lead to new court cases.’
The Child Rights Law was passed by the National Federal Council earlier this month, and the breastfeeding clause added once it was put up for review.
The Council said that it was the right of all children to be breastfed up to the age of two, and that it is a duty and not an option for any woman able to do so.
The decision was backed up by research which show that breast feeding is beneficial both for a child’s future health, but also for the bond between mother and baby, while other members referred to parts of the Koran which states that a mother should nurse.
If a mother is unable to breastfeed for a biological reason, the state should support her by providing a wet nurse, but it has not been explained how this system is to be implemented.
Several groups supporting new parents reacted strongly to the new breastfeeding law, including Out of the Blues, a Dubai organisation helping mothers suffering from postnatal issues.
‘As a group we wholeheartedly agree that breastfeeding should be encouraged and that the sentiment is a good one that clearly follows international guidelines,’ the group wrote in an open letter in The National.
‘However, as many of the new mothers we encounter are already under significant pressure, we are concerned that enacting a law that leaves mothers facing potential punishment could be a step too far.’
The group also pointed out that is has not been made clear who will be responsible for assessing who is and is not able to breastfeed, especially as lactation specialists can be hard to find in the UAE.