Women working for private companies in India may soon be eligible for longer maternity leaves.
As the government is considering more than doubling the existing provision of 12 weeks of maternity leave to 26 weeks—equal of what government sector jobs currently allow.
The moves comes after women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi expressed the importance of health for both mother and child pots birth “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.
However, the government will need to amend the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, to allow this extension. If approved in the parliament, the new policy could be both a blessing and a curse for female employees.
Even though a few large private companies already offer a long leave to new mothers, there are fears that a mandatory six-and-a-half months of maternity leave may deter employers from recruiting women.
There are, however, several upsides to a longer maternity leave for both women and employers.
To begin with, it might encourage more women to enter—and more importantly, stay—in the labour force. According to data from the National Sample Survey Office (pdf), in 2012, only 23.3% women from the age group of 30-44 years in urban India were a part of the workforce. While, 98.8% of the men in the same age group were working.
Compared to some of the East European countries, India has a much shorter maternity leave policy—even though there are some countries like the US, which offer any paid paternal leave.