After analysing whether Hong Kong is a breastfeeding friendly society with reference to parameters based on facilities, government support and public policies, I believe that Hong Kong is not a breastfeeding-friendly society. I will further explain with the evaluation in aspects of coverage, protection and discrimination below.
Parameter 1: Coverage of support for mothers to breastfeed is low
Currently, there are only 2 hospitals are accredited by BFHIHKA to be a Baby-friendly Hospital in Hong Kong. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative was to remove breastfeeding barriers in health facilities such as hospitals, clinics, maternity centres and mother-child care centres. The fact that only 2 hospitals out of 56 hospitals in Hong Kong are qualified proves the inadequacy in providing high-quality support to breastfeeding mothers to start breastfeeding and inability to promote continuous breastfeeding as an option for mothers with a newborn.
Some may say numerous supportive environment for breastfeeding is provided in all regions of Hong Kong. There are about 142 nursery rooms in Hong Kong island, 207 in Kowloon, 212 in New Territories and 44 in outlying islands. To be specific, the MTR provides support through provide a more comfortable environment for mothers to nurse their babies in 20 interchange stations. Private rooms can be arranged in stations without a designated breastfeeding area. The Hong Kong International Airport also provides a total of 39 nursing rooms. Therefore, the support is adequate and the coverage is high.
However, MTR only provides support in 20 stations out of all 91 stations. Moreover, according to a survey done by the Department of Health, the reason for over 50% of mothers breastfeeding in public is that there are not available breastfeeding room, this means either the rooms are occupied and implies the supply is less than demand, or there is no breastfeeding room provided near them. Furthermore, from the result of the field observation, the breastfeeding rooms appear to be only equipped in newer malls like Hysan but not in older malls like Causeway Bay Plaza 2, the coverage in newer malls is higher than that of the older malls. Also, as older malls tend to situated in residential areas and newer malls in commercial areas and breastfeeding mothers tend to stay in the residential areas, there are not enough facilities around them. It is evident that the support is of low coverage, thus Hong Kong is unfriendly towards breastfeeding.
Parameter 2: Ineffectiveness of government policy — lack of legal protection
At present, there is no explicit provision in the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO) prohibiting direct or indirect discrimination against breastfeeding. In other developed places, for instance, In Australia, the law clearly stated that it is generally against the law to refuse to make arrangements to assist mothers to breastfeed at work. Moreover, in Taiwan, The Public Breastfeeding Act and Standards for Establishment and Administration of Public Breastfeeding Rooms are adopted to protect and safeguard the right of women to breastfeed in public places and provide those who are willing to do so with care. Although breastfeeding in public is lawful, there are no effective laws to safeguard this right in Hong Kong, hence it is an unfriendly society.
Some may argue The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) handles breastfeeding discrimination complaints. Under the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance(FSDO), it is unlawful to discriminate against a person who has “family status” in specified areas including employment, education, provision of goods, facilities or services, disposal or management of premises, etc.
However, the “family status” stated in FSDO does not specifically include breastfeeding women. This makes it difficult for the EOC to establish a case of discrimination on the ground of breastfeeding. So far no case on discrimination on grounds of breastfeeding has been taken to court in Hong Kong. This is an ineffective system to completely ensure that breastfeeding mothers can enjoy their rights of breastfeeding publicly.
Although there is The Discrimination Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2018 being discussed in the Legislative Council, it has not been implemented and a long time has passed. It also has a lot of loopholes even in the amendments. It is pointed out by the Equal Opportunity Commision that the definition of breastfeeding and breastfeeding situation in the bill is flawed. For instance, “a woman is breastfeeding if she is engaged in the act of breastfeeding her child or expressing breast milk to feed her child”is stated in the definition of breastfeeding. However, it is nearly impossible to tell whether the breastfeeding woman is the mother of the child being breastfed because it is not a must that the baby belongs to the breastfeeding woman. Also, this specification of “her child” is unneeded, the law should protect all breastfeeding mothers in general. Similar laws protecting breastfeeding mothers in Australia and the UK do not consist of such restrictions. It is seen that the unenacted bill is flawed and there is no implemented legislation to protect the rights and safety of mothers breastfeeding in public. Hong Kong is ineffective in providing legal protection for mothers who breastfeed in public, therefore, Hong Kong is not a breastfeeding friendly society.
Parameter 3: Ineffectiveness in providing public support to breastfeeding mothers despite positive public opinion on breastfeeding
Currently, the knowledge in breastfeeding of the public is limited. There is about one-fifth of respondents think that formula milk is more beneficial than breast milk and majority of their (72.1% and 76.5%) answers do not correspond to WHO recommendations of the duration of breastfeeding. About half (47.6%) of respondents only have 1 answer corresponded to WHO recommendations. The percentages are alarmingly high and proved citizens’ lack of knowledge in breastfeeding. This leads to ineffectiveness in providing suitable and adequate support to breastfeeding mothers which will be illustrated below.
Some may say the positive opinion on breastfeeding helps to provide public support. There is a high acceptance towards breastfeeding in public and implementation of breastfeeding friendly measures. Majority (78.7%) of the public holds a positive attitude to breastfeeding and (86.1%) of the respondents agree on implementing these breastfeeding friendly measures in public venue. This indicates that the public consider breastfeeding in public should be promoted and that facilities and measures should be built and implemented in doing so. The public holds a positive attitude to breastfeeding and is willing to provide support, therefore, Hong Kong is a breastfeeding-friendly society.
However, the society is ineffective in providing public support to breastfeeding mothers. Although there is an overwhelmingly positive opinion on public breastfeeding and implementation of measures, little is actually done due to the lack of knowledge of breastfeeding. This indicates the ineffectiveness of concern groups like La Leche League HK in promoting breastfeeding as well.
Mothers have to return to work after 10 weeks of maternity leaveand the baby should still be breastfed exclusively at that time. However, as the public lack knowledge in the period of exclusive breastfeeding and the continuation of breastfeeding after the introduction of solid food, 34-35 that 24.2% and 28.2% of respondents answered don’t know, regulations of providing a proper environment for female employees to breastfeed are often not implemented in workplace. FThe majority (81.4%) of respondents stated that there is no implementation of breastfeeding friendly measures in the workplace. This may be caused by the fact that public are uninformed of the duration needed for breastfeeding and thus consider providing support in workplace is not needed as they thought 10 weeks have already passed since the mother gave birth. Therefore, although the public opinion is positive, the effectiveness in providing public support is low due to the lack of knowledge.