New Delhi: In a bid to reduce infant mortality and boost immunity in babies, the government is encouraging women to breastfeed for six months. Another big step was taken in this direction today with the Rajya Sabha passing the Maternity Benefit Bill that will allow women to avail 26 weeks of maternity leave. This is more than double of what women in India could currently avail. This will be mandatory for all organisations, both governement and private, with over 10 women employees and for the first two children only.
The Women and Child Development Ministry provided inputs to the Labour and Employment Ministry that crafted the bill. WCD minister Maneka Gandhi said, “According to a UNICEF report, if a mother breastfeeds for 7 months then many diseases in infants can be prevented. So we have proposed six and a half months.” Maneka Gandhi was earlier pushing for 32 weeks (8 months) but it was settled at 26 weeks as the 44th, 45th and 46th Indian Labour Conference had recommended enhancement of maternity benefits to 24 weeks.
Many sceptics were worried that the move could have a negative fallout on the employability of women with the private sector shying away from hiring women employees but Maneka Gandhi smiled and told mediapersons, “I don’t think this will deter companies from hiring women. No one can multitask like women.” She also made a passionate appeal in the House for the bill saying, “Most people presume it is a holiday. Let me tell you it can be as stressful as it gets.”
The bill will also make it mandatory for organisations with over 50 women employees to have a creche. 12 weeks of maternity leave can be availed in cases of surrogacy (commissioning mother) and adoption. BSP’s SC Mishra said that a thought should be given to allowing longer leave to a woman who bears the child in surrogacy too. DMK’s Kanimozhi and TMC’s Derek O’Brien also pushed for the same. The government was asked to examine this aspect. Labour minister Bandaru said the decision will impact 1.8 million working women in the country. The bill received all round support from the Upper House and was passed by consensus.