IT IS deeply concerning that breast-milk substitutes are sold online across the country in gross violation of the domestic laws as well as the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes that was adopted by the World Health Organisation in 1980 aimed at restricting the marketing of breast-milk substitutes and ensuring that mothers are not discouraged from breast-feeding their babies. The International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes prohibits all forms of advertising and promotion of breast-milk substitutes. Paediatricians, as New Age reported on Friday, expressed concern over exposing infants to health risks caused to them by the breast-milk substitutes. Online stores and some of the super shops sell breast-milk substitutes flouting the laws taking advantage of the absence of monitoring and law enforcement. Ajkerdeal.com, Chaldal.com, babycarebd.com, kidsandmoms.com.bd, buymebrand.com and some Facebook-based online sellers have made easy entry to family homes. These shops and some food companies are also violating the local law — Breast Milk Substitutes, Child Food, Commercially Produced Child Supplementary Food and the Utensils used (Marketing Control) Act 2013, better known as the BMS Code. In addition to banning any kind of advertisement for the marketing, distribution and sale of breast-milk substitutes, this law also prohibits the use of a photograph of a child or a mother, or both, on the containers or packets of milk substitutes.
In Bangladesh, breast-milk substitutes are sold by at least 30 online stores, businesses and shopping cart platforms and Facebook pages are also used for these sales. According to a report released by BRAC in April, breast-milk substitute manufacturing companies spend profusely on the promotion of their products flouting both the international and the national laws. Experts have observed that consequent upon it, the market has been glutted with unregistered and counterfeit products with wrong or insufficient ingredients or without active ingredients in the name of breast-milk substitutes. Non-enforcement of the law has resulted in a boom in sales of not only the substitutes but also of other child food supplements for a section of businessmen maximising profits. Because of these irregularities, the rate of chronic malnutrition among children in the country is alarming. Growth retardation, an outcome of chronic malnutrition, is affecting an estimated 45 per cent of the children, more than seven million children under the age of five that is. Besides this, infants deprived of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of their life are suffering from diarrhoea, pneumonia and other life-threatening diseases, including hampered brain development.
The government’s indifference to these shops and companies appears to be geared more towards creating the scope for business than actually addressing the issue at hand. It is high time that the government looked into the matter seriously and made a course correction. It needs to take expeditious steps to bring aberrant shops and companies to justice in accordance with relevant laws and intensify monitoring to catch hold of unscrupulous businessmen and prosecute them.
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