A Stung Treng police officer was reprimanded by her superiors for breastfeeding her child while on the job and an ensuing uproar on social media resulted in provincial officials backtracking the admonishment.
Sithong Sokha, who is a deputy police chief of Stung Treng’s Siem Pang district, posted a photo of herself breastfeeding her child on March 2, adding an emoji to cover herself.
“As a mother, no matter what the circumstances, for the child [the mother] has to forget shame,” she said in the Facebook post.
But, provincial and district police officials summonsed her for a meeting on March 9 and made her sign a contract asking her to stop breastfeeding in public and in uniform because it affected the honor of her unit and Khmer women.
“I do not intend to post unsuitable posts on Facebook which will affect the honor of my police unit, including the honor of Khmer women,” the contract reads.
Speaking to CamboJA, Sokha said she signed the contract but maintains that she did not do anything wrong.
“I don’t know why I was wrong when they called me to sign the contract,” she said. “I think it is not wrong because I have posted it to illustrate a mother’s heart for a child.”
Sokha said she has three children and took her 14-months old child to work last week because there was no one to take care of the child at home.
Stung Treng Police Chief Out Sivutha said that the district police chief called Sokha to just educate the officer and ask her not to breastfeed in public.
“There was no fine on her. We just called to educate her and not to breastfeed in public,” he said.
He said he understood a “mother’s heart” but that Sokha was a deputy district police chief and should not have posted the photo on Facebook.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs supported Sokha’s right to breastfeed her child, but at the same time said it should be done at a designated area in an office or for mothers to “cover” themselves during breastfeeding.
“In case the institution does not have a suitable place, women should have materials such as a scarf or towel during breastfeeding to avoid criticism from the public who will say it is not an appropriate image and affects the value and honor of Khmer women,” the statement reads.
Men Kung, Stung Treng provincial hall spokesperson, said the provincial governor instructed police officials, who had reprimanded her, to apologize to Sokha.
The governor said “it isn’t wrong to breastfeed and there are no [penal code] articles to penalize someone,” Men Kung said, adding that the contract had been voided.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of Cambodian Center for Human Right, said the police’s actions were disappointing and a serious violation of women’s rights. It was a sad reminder, she said, of the social and cultural norms thrust on women.
“Breastfeeding does not affect the reputation of the police in any way and should not be shamed,” Sopheap said.