Viral: Parents in Indonesia give their baby 5 cups of coffee a day because they say they can’t afford milk

Illustration. Photo: Emre Gencer/Unsplash
Illustration. Photo: Emre Gencer/Unsplash

Milk is considered essential to the health and nutrition of infants, but for those living in poverty in Indonesia, it can seem an unattainable luxury, as highlighted by a story that has gone viral this week.

A 14-month-old baby in Polewali Mandar, West Sulawesi named Hadijah has made headlines all over the country after it emerged on social media that she has been drinking coffee as a substitute for milk, which her parents say they can’t afford.

As reported by Kompas, her parents, named Safiruddin and Anita, say they have been giving Hadijah around five cups of coffee — 1.5 liters — a day since she was six months old. Specifically, they gave her kopi tubruk, which is a simple and oftentimes cheap Indonesian-style coffee prepared by boiling coarse coffee grounds along with sugar.

Anita says she and her husband earn around IDR20 thousand (US$1.42) each per day extracting copra (dried coconut meat) at a coconut plantation.

“What else can we do? Our income is not enough to buy milk. We’re forced to give her coffee every day. In fact, she can’t sleep if she hadn’t had coffee. She can throw a tantrum asking for coffee before bed,” she told Kompas.

Even so, Anita says Hadijah has grown to be a highly active child and has had no problems with her physical growth. 

After Hadijah’s story went viral, officials from the Polewali Mandar Health Agency say they have visited Hadijah and gave her a supply of milk and biscuits. They have told her parents to stop giving her coffee to lower her risks of overexposure to caffeine or sugar at such an early age.

There have been no reports of government officials taking any further or more long-term steps to help Hadijah.

Hadijah may be one of millions of children at risk of malnutrition due to poverty. According to UNICEF data, in 2018, close to 3 in 10 children under 5 years of age were stunted (unable to reach one’s potential for growth) while 1 in 10 were wasted (suffer acute malnutrition). UNICEF also found that while poverty contributes to malnutrition, inadequate knowledge and practices of child-caring and child feeding also sustain high rates of malnutrition.

As for giving infants coffee, studies have found that the drink offers no benefit to young children, and that it should be avoided altogether due to possible health risks such as increased blood pressure, seizures and heart arrhythmias from caffeine and the likes of obesity and cardiovascular diseases from sugar.

Also read: Indonesia cracks down on condensed milk being marketed as a healthy ‘milk’ substitute for kids 

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