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Maternity Leave Rules In India: Is It Time For An Update?

Posted: June 4, 2015

Maternity leave rules in India need to be looked into again, under the changing socio-economic circumstances. 12 weeks of paid leave is hardly sufficient. 

Recently, Accenture India increased the mandatory maternity leave duration from 12 weeks to 22 weeks. That’s a great move towards working mothers and one that has the potential to become the first mover in the corporate world. But will other companies follow suit? Has the government taken a note of this?

New mothers quit jobs every other day in companies. Sometimes, it’s the lack of support and sometimes, it is the need of the hour. I have seen many career oriented women, who though doing well in their professional lives leave their jobs, just because 12 weeks of maternity leave is not enough. The hard part is that statutory guidelines of providing working women a maternity leave of 12 weeks was formulated in 1961. After over 50 years, it is high time to reconsider the duration of leaves and revamp maternity benefits for Indian women.

Why do I say so?

From 1961 to 2015, the Indian household has gone through a drastic change. More and more women are in the workforce than ever and they treat their careers with the same importance as their male counterparts. They want to return to work after the baby is born and a support system is not always a possibility. Day cares, nannies and other alternative options have to be thought of by the couple at least till the time the baby can emote its needs.

There is a paid twelve weeks of maternity leave and insurance benefits. I am also aware that under complications, four additional weeks of leave is possible but knowing that the new mother would want to spend the maximum time with her new-born, she tries to push herself hardest to take the twelve weeks of leave after the baby is born. She ignores self care and starts putting herself behind much before child birth. She certainly deserves more than what she is granted, and who else but the lawmakers of this country can address it.

The situation in reality

When I was born, my mother wasn’t working. She started to work, when I was four so my example is the wrong one to quote. I am kind of guessing, that this is the case with most men or women of my age. Things have changed now. Today, a mother of twins quits her job because with two little babies at home and no support in the city she lives, 16 weeks is too short to be ready to join back work.

There is a mother who recently had a baby and while she is seeing her grow every single day, this baby goes feverish because at 6 months she is too young to tolerate the air conditioner at the day care. While this new mother wants to return to work, the fact that her half-year old is undergoing “separation anxiety” leaves her thinking if it is the right time to go back to work.

Today, a mother of twins quits her job because with two little babies at home and no support in the city she lives, 16 weeks is too short to be ready to join back work.

Even doctors advise that a baby needs to be breast-fed for first six months of their lives. Mothers undergo guilt at leaving their babies behind, in day cares and then at work they wonder whether their little ones ate something or not. Is somebody playing  with the child and keeping him/her happy? Will she be able to fully contribute at work knowing that her child is probably crying because (s)he can’t see the mother around?

What’s my point?

The point I’m trying to raise is whether 12-16 weeks of maternity leave is good enough or not. Is it enough for a new mother recovering from a C-section or the heavy bleeding with a belt tied to the tummy to support the uterus to get back to work with full enthusiasm and energy? Is the leave good enough for the baby to smile and wave while (s)he sees the mother leaving for work? I agree that the maternity leave in India is a paid one and it is certainly helpful for that financial support but is the duration enough?

Should the duration be reconsidered once again? 50 years on and we haven’t even come at par with many other nations in the world. What about flexibility at work? What about nursing breaks that consider the fact that the child may not always be in a day care that’s at a distance of 100 metres? When companies want to show that they encourage women to join after delivering a baby, do they also give enough support to the new mom?

An acquaintance of mine in Canada is going back to work after her daughter’s first birthday. She is mentally and physically ready to get back to being a physiotherapist and so is her baby who can now walk and express things. The first year is crucial for both the new mum and the baby. Now is the time to look into it. Many other women in India would be willing to continue working after becoming mothers if they know that the law allows them a year-long leave.

As a nation, when we are doing so many positive things to show our worth to the world, this is certainly important.

Nothing can ever be more important than human lives and the mother who brings it to life. It’s high time the government reconsiders the laws around motherhood and maternity leave for women in India.

Working mother’s image via Shutterstock

Working Homemaker. HR Professional. Engineer. Wikipedian. Blogger. Reviewer. Family Photographer

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  1. I personally think every person should get a fixed amount of “time off” for whatever personal reasons they want. Whether a woman chooses to use that time to have a baby, or a man chooses it to go climb mount Everest, or if someone else just want to sit at home staring at the ceiling, it’s their choice. I don’t think we need a special “maternity leave” quota. After all, becoming pregnant is a choice (at least in today’s world) – a choice that is no different from any other personal undertaking.

    • Sure. Having a child and taking time off to climb the Everest is the same. We certainly need more thoughtful men like you around 🙂

    • Come, no need to be sarcastic. Ultimately everyone has children for their personal benefit. Either to feel good, or to satisfy one’s cravings for a child, or to try (at least) not be alone in one’s old age or whatever. And in the 21st century, getting pregnant is a choice. It’s not as if every woman has to have children. It’s an undertaking for personal reasons carried out of one’s free will. The same as a person doing something else for spiritual fulfillment (like climbing a mountain for example). I see no logical reason why maternity should be more sacred than other pursuits. I’m not saying there should be no maternity leave. I’m saying everyone should get a fixed amount of leave for personal reasons.

    • mr bhagwat for ur reply “I see no logical reason why maternity should be more sacred than other pursuits”
      you have to be a women,otherwise u cant understand,

    • Well my wife is a woman, and she agrees with me so…. It would be beneficial if people stopped speaking for all women. Personal choices are perfectly fine. But I know of quite a few women who simply dislike children and never want to have them – ever. I also know 3 women approaching 50 who have remained childless by choice. These are women too right? So let’s not pretend that every woman has an uncontrollable impulse to give birth.

      Some women want to have babies. Some do not. No choice is preferable to the other. Neither is “more sacred”.

    • feeling so thankful that law makers all over the world don’t think like you. Even if having a baby is personal choice then …it required much more than staring a ceiling…!!

    • Mr.bhagwat men wants to do something else in their life, and require leave is the personal choice,but haing baby is not only the personal, its family 7 soicety requirement also,and important as well,so this matter is something different from limbing at mountain or stare at ceiling.kindly keep in mind

    • Are you saying that a pregnant woman doesn’t actually want to have the child? Ultimately whose choice is it? The woman’s right? Even if the whole family wants a child, it is the woman’s choice both to get pregnant, and not to have an abortion afterwards. Am I wrong?

      No one has a baby for “society”. That is just weird. Imagine someone saying “I want to serve society. So I will have a baby!”.

    • Thank you for engaging in the conversation..
      But I feel i should share with you that there are many women in India who have no choice on the decision on when they want to have a baby. Yes, it a woman’s body but she is not given that right. There is not one but many women I know personally who could have waited 5 years to have a baby but the family did not want to wait. No, she wont say she is serving society and stuff and but looks like you live in a Utopian India. India’s truth is far away from that..
      And abortion? get me a woman who will write on this comment page and say that I got an abortion done cos I was not ready? It’s still such a big taboo and unless the woman’s life is under question, however, not ready she is , she will go ahead with the pregnancy..that’s how modern India is.

    • We already have laws preventing women from being forced into giving birth. I mean…what is the family going to do? Chain her up? We have laws against domestic violence for that. If her family emotionally pressures her into having a child, that is perfectly fine. The government does not protect us against emotional blackmail – otherwise parents pressurizing their adult children to get married would be illegal.

      The law exists to protect the woman against physical coercion. It’s her choice however to give in to mental pressure, or stand firm. As long as there is no threat to her physical well being, everything is working as intended.

    • Having kid is as much a personnel choice for man kind as much as having food for your body. But climbing Everest or staring at ceilings are things of interest. You can’t be sure that your kid will love you or protect you in the old age at be your support for life time but still.you may want to give birth to a baby. You choose to be a parent not just for yourself or your family..but for the nation and the society too. Why do you think the Government in Germany and Switzerland are promoting the birth of kids with incentives and benefits.

    • I disagree. If having a baby was equivalent to eating food ,then all childless couples would be dead. My wife and I for example have chosen never to have kids. That is a choice – we cannot however choose not to eat. So this is a false equivalence. Having children is a very deliberate choice in the 21st century. And as far as India goes, there absolutely no danger of the population dying out! The very thought is strange – we have overpopulation problems, not underpopulation ones!

      Finally, the Indian government is most welcome to pay money to people who have children if it wants. Your examples of Germany and Switzerland only drive home the point that having a child is a personal decision – otherwise it would simply have made bearing children a law! The presence of incentives means that government recognize that these days people realize the choice in having kids.

    • Some men r impotent and some females infertile so not having a child is obvious not a choice

    • The fact that a few couples cannot have children does not mean that having a child in the 21st century is not a choice. Obviously there are exceptions, but the general rule is still true.

  2. I am 8 months pregnant out of choice and I am in full agreement with with Bhagwad….Its a choice not a compulsion…Accordir g to me women who call themselves the 21st century women have a spine ..they can choose to work or not work….have kids or have a dog or have neither so if i choose not to have kids should give me the privilege to take 3 to 6 months to do whatever i want (including stare at the ceiling)….and my partner should also get the right to do the same ……why to make any one feel left out….this is the same concept as getting a paternity leave….why shouldn’t men get involved in the whole ritual of child birth?? And then us women say that men don’t do anything….i know i am off the topic but i really think that everyone should have a right to take some time off

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