ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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In the Name of the Mother

Two separate government decisions on maternity benefits smack of discrimination.

At a time when amendments to labour laws are invariably curtailing worker rights and welfare measures, the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act (MBA), 2017 passed earlier this year is certainly welcome. One of the amendments to the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, passed in the Lok Sabha grants women 26 weeks of fully paid maternity leave for up to two surviving children as opposed do the earlier 12 weeks. Undoubtedly, these and other changes in the law are praiseworthy. The problem is that these changes do not go far enough or are not wide enough to cover the women and families who really need these benefits. They also do not cover areas that would have paved the way towards equitable parenting. Ironically, even before these amendments could prove their benefits, last month the union cabinet made changes in the Maternity Benefit Programme (MBP) (not to be confused with the act) that lopped off a large number of eligible beneficiaries. Clearly, this is a case of not only giving too little but also giving with one hand and taking back with the other. The latest changes also discriminate between different sections of women workers.

The amended MBA, estimated to cover 1.8 million women in the organised sector, applies to all establishments that employ more than 10 persons. It is mandatory for those employing more than 50 persons or 30 women to run a crche either in the office or within a radius of 500 metres and allow the mother four visits to it. If the nature of the work permits and the employer is willing, the new mother can work from home after availing of the paid leave. Commissioning mothers in surrogacy and women adopting a child below three months will also be allowed 12 weeks of paid leave. Research and experience across the world have established that maternity leave decreases the risk of infant mortality and, due to improved breastfeeding rates, leads to better infant nutrition. It also significantly helps the mothers to cope with stress.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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