A bill to improve maternity benefits was passed in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of the Indian parliament, on Thursday. The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 increases the maternity leave that Indian women are entitled to from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.
The bill which now has to be passed by the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of the Indian parliament, before it becomes law, also allows maternity leave for, in the language of the bill, “commissioning mothers” i.e, women who have their fertilised eggs implanted in surrogates.
There is also a provision in the bill that requires companies with more than 50 employees to have creches and allow female employees to visit the cr?che at least four times a day, according to an analysis by the Delhi-based organisation PRS Legislative Research.
The original Maternity Benefit Act in India, which was introduced in 1961, has gone through amendments several times over the past 55 years including in 1976, 1988, 1995 and 2008. The 12-week maternity-leave provision had survived all those amendments, but it seems the Indian parliament might finally be bringing maternity leave benefits in line with the rest of the world.
Considering just the countries in South Asia, if the proposed bill comes into law, India will have the most maternity leave granted to mothers, according to the 2014 International Labour Organization report “Maternity and Paternity at work”. Paternity leave though has been left untouched by the bill at 0 days, leaving India behind Bangladesh which legally allows fathers 10 days of paternity leave.
The move from 12 to 26 weeks would actually leave India 13th in the list of countries with the most generous maternity leave periods. The list is led by Balkan countries such as Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, which all offer at least 52 weeks or a year as maternity leave. When it comes to paternity leave though, the Nordic countries lead the way with Iceland offering 90 and Finland offering 54 days of paternity leave.
Countries in the Persian Gulf are the most regressive when it comes to maternity leave with the United Arab Emirates offering just six weeks, Qatar and Oman seven weeks.
There are several offenders when it comes to paternity leave around the world, with India just one of 105 countries to offer no paternity leave at all. After this blow struck for maternal rights, it seems like legislation recognising the rights of Indian fathers is long overdue too.