NEW DELHI • The Indian government is looking to increase maternity leave for women employed by private sector firms to 26 weeks from 12 weeks at present.
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said on Monday that the Ministry of Labour has agreed to increase the duration of maternity leave in the private sector to 6-1/2 months, reported The Indian Express. This would be higher than the six months of maternity leave granted to women in government jobs.
"We had written to the Labour Ministry asking that the maternity leave be extended, taking into account the six months of breastfeeding that is required post-childbirth. The Labour Ministry has agreed to increase it to 6-1/2 months," said Ms Gandhi.
The ministry is now expected to amend the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, to enshrine the new maternity leave period, during which employers are liable to pay full wages.
Officials of the Women and Child Development Ministry said they will continue to push for extending the leave to 32 weeks, or eight months, for women in both the public and private sector.
However, the Labour Ministry is understood to have expressed reservations about any further increase, as it may adversely affect the employability of women.
"The Labour Ministry has decided on 6-1/2 months following meetings with various stakeholders. We, however, feel that eight months of maternity leave - for women in the government as well as private sector - is required," said a Women and Child Development Ministry official. "We will move a note to the Cabinet Secretariat in this regard. Six months of exclusive breast- feeding is very important to combat malnutrition, diarrhoea and other diseases in infants and to lower the infant mortality rate."
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommends a standard maternity leave of 14 weeks or more. However, it encourages member states to increase it to at least 18 weeks. At 26 weeks, India is set to join the ranks of 42 other countries where maternity leave exceeds the higher target set by the ILO.
"Women in India need longer maternity leave in the absence of any support in parenting from men. It should not be seen as a deduction in labour hours but as a long-term investment... This is in addition to the fact that women need long maternity leave to recuperate and invest in childcare," said Ms Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, according to The Indian Express.
However, the new dispensation is not as generous as the maternity leave system in some East European, Central Asian and Scandinavian countries. Singapore's Ministry of Manpower guarantees 12 to 16 weeks of maternity leave for eligible women employees.