The labour ministry has to amend the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.

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news Maternity leave Tuesday, December 29, 2015 - 10:07

The central government is likely to increase the maternity leave for women employed in the private sector to a minimum of 26 weeks. Private firms are bound to give 12 weeks of paid maternity leave under the existing law.

 “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 six-and-a-half months,” Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi told Indian Express on Monday.

In order to make this a reality, the labour ministry has to amend the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.

Officials of the WCD Ministry told the newspaper that initially they were keen to extend the leave to eight months, or 32 weeks, for women employed in both private and government sectors.

But the Labour Ministry feared that that might negatively impact regarding employability of women.

“The Labour Ministry has decided on six-and-a-half months following meetings with various stakeholders. We, however, feel that eight months of maternity leave — for women in government as well as private sectors — is required. We will move a note to the Cabinet Secretariat in this regard. Six months of exclusive breastfeeding is very important to combat malnutrition, diarrhoea and other diseases in infants and to lower infant mortality rate,” a WCD official told Express.

The International Labour Organisation recommends a minimum standard maternity leave of 14 weeks or more, though it encourages member states to increase it to at least 18 weeks.

The Express report quotes Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research saying, “Women in India need longer maternity leave in 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 from the future economic point of view. This is in addition to the fact that women need long maternity leave to recuperate and invest in child care.”

Kumari added that a recent analysis of the Maternity Benefit Act by CSR for the National Commission of Women showed that discrimination against pregnant women was quite common in the corporate sector in the country.