Maternity Benefits

The government must universalise maternity benefits

Maternity benefits should be a right of all workers regardless of employment status, or the number of children

The key findings from the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) of selected states have reminded us that India is facing a crisis of poor nutrition outcomes. Prevalence of stunting among children has remained stagnant or increased in most of these states. The appalling under-nourishment of children reflects poor maternal nutrition, widespread anaemia and insufficient breastfeeding. Anaemia among women also remains very high and has, in fact, increased in several states.

The Code is further discriminatory towards women with more than two children and deprives the third or later child of the care and breastfeeding from their mother as she would get only 12 weeks leave instead of the recommended period of six months (World Health Organization). The maternity benefits are also limited to only three months in the case of adoptive and surrogate mothers. In fact, maternity benefits should be gender neutral as “parental benefit”, since sometimes men may need to care for the child, or the adoptive parent may not be a woman/mother.

While the amended Maternity Benefit Act as well as the Code specify that establishments that have 50 employees shall have a creche facility, the draft rules dilute this provision by stating that “in every establishment where fifty or more women employees are ordinarily employed”. This not only reduces the availability of these facilities of children, but it is likely to make employers reluctant about employing more women. In reality, what was required was expanding the creche provision to all children with a locality-based arrangement that permit the mother to go and breastfeed close to the workplace.