Recently, Parliament has cleared the Maternity Benefit Bill to extend the period of paid maternity leave for women working in the organized sector to 26 weeks from the current 12. It applies to all organizations that employ 10 or more people. This bill is a path breaking step by the government of India to address the maternity and post-maternity child care of the working women. It has several good features:
- Facilitates work from home.
- Mandatory provision for a creche for factories with at least 50 workers.
- Maternity benefits will also be provided to the ‘commissioning mothers’ as well as those who adopt a child below three months.
- It will also help in breastfeeding the newborn child and create enough conditions to address the problem of child malnutrition.
By enacting this act, India has become the third country in the world after Canada and Norway to provide for long maternity leave. It is a really great step which will also increase female labor force participation in the country. However, I want to emphasize on other issues:
Is child-rearing the only responsibility of women? What about men/ paternity leave?
India is a patriarchal society where men hold the position of power and decision-makers. Child-rearing and child care are considered as the responsibility of women and their primary goal of life. And even if, women are working, she has to bear the double responsibility of ‘doing the job’ as well as ‘ taking care of the house and children’. As per one study of the Union Labour Ministry and Women & Child Development Ministry, longer maternity leave will increase the burden of childcare for women. Not only this, but it will also lead to some kind of bias by employers against hiring women and will make it difficult for mothers to re-enter the labor market. Childcare leave seems to legitimize the father’s absence from caregiving and institutionalize female care.
The solution can be providing parent leave meaning giving leave to both mother and father. Because rearing the child is the responsibility of both, not one parent. The 26 weeks of leave can be divided between the mother and father of the expected child. It not only reduces the burden on the mother but also provides flexibility to the employer.
How the women who work in the unorganized sector will get the benefit?
Indian economy is dominated by the unorganized sector. A large number of women work in the unorganized sector. The maternity bill will only cover 1.8 million working women in the country. What will happen to those women who work in the unorganized sector? They are low paid and mostly work in tiring situations. They will not be able to avail of the benefit of the above maternity benefit. They can only avail conditional cash benefit of INR 6000 during pregnancy and lactation benefits offered under the Maternity Benefits Programme. But that is not enough for the holistic development of the child and mother.
Why not make some universal provision regarding health and insurance for women. There are some benefits provided to poor women. However, there is a need to make it universal so that every woman in the country can get enough benefits and health facilities to take care of their child. It will not only reduce the burden of Infant mortality (IMR) and maternal mortality (MMR) but also help in effectively developing our human resources. Universalizing health, insurance, and education will help in reaping the potential of most talked ” demographic dividend” of the country. Recently launched, National Health Policy 2017 is a step in the right direction. However, there is a long way to go change the ground level situations.
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