India more than doubles maternity leave to boost child health, female workforce

India now gives the third longest duration of fully paid maternity leave in the world. (AFP)
Updated 10 March 2017

India more than doubles maternity leave to boost child health, female workforce

NEW DELHI: India will more than double maternity leave, allow work from home and require employers to have crèches to improve maternal and child health and boost a declining female workforce.
A bill approved by parliament late on Thursday increases fully paid leave to 26 weeks from 12 weeks, provides leave for adoptive mothers for 12 weeks, and facilitates a work from home option for nursing mothers.
It also mandates organizations with more than 50 employees to provide crèche facilities and allow the mother at least four crèche visits daily to look after and feed her child.
“The maternity bill is a historic step as it puts us in the top countries in the world that care for new mothers,” Maneka Gandhi, minister for women and children, said on Friday.
“With 26 weeks to care for their newborns, both mother and child will be healthier,” she said in a video on the ministry’s Facebook page.
India has high rates of child malnutrition, yet only 55 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, compared with 70 percent in neighboring Nepal and 76 percent in Sri Lanka.
Female participation in the workforce in India has been declining in recent years, with only 22 percent of women in working in the formal economy, well below the global average of 47 percent, according to UN Women.
Extending maternity leave will encourage more women to return to work and help close the gender gap in the labor market, gender experts say, as many women reluctantly drop out of work because they need more time for their newborns.
“Women should not have to choose between becoming a mother and keeping their job, and the amendment of the Maternity Bill is a landmark step in this direction,” said Poonam Muttreja, executive director of Population Foundation of India.
The move puts India among the most generous countries globally in terms of the amount of maternity leave afforded to women. Canada allows for 50 weeks, while Norway gives 46 weeks.
The government says the law will benefit 1.8 million women in the formal sector, but activists point out around 90 percent of the India’s female workforce is in the unorganized sector, and remains unprotected and at risk of labor exploitation.
The law, due to come into force after the president’s assent, will apply to all workplaces with 10 or more employees. (Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Astrid Zweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.


‘Disturbing’ allegations of rape in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict: UN

Updated 22 January 2021

‘Disturbing’ allegations of rape in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict: UN

  • A UN representative said she was greatly concerned by serious allegations from the northern region

ADDIS ABABA: The UN says it has received “disturbing” reports of sexual violence and abuse in Ethiopia’s conflict-hit Tigray region, including of individuals forced to rape members of their own family.
Pramila Patten, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, said she was greatly concerned by serious allegations from the northern region, including “a high number of alleged rapes” in the Tigrayan capital Mekele.
“There are also disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence,” Patten said in a statement Thursday.
“Some women have also reportedly been forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities.”
Patten called on all parties involved in the hostilities to commit to a zero-tolerance policy for crimes of sexual violence.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, announced military operations in Tigray in early November, saying they came in response to attacks by the regional ruling party on federal army camps.
Abiy declared victory after federal forces entered the regional capital in late November, though leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) remain on the run and have vowed to fight on.
Thousands have died in the conflict, according to the International Crisis Group, though a communications blackout and media and humanitarian access restrictions have made it difficult to assess the situation on the ground.
In her statement Thursday, Patten noted that “medical centers have indicated an increase in the demand for emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) which is often an indicator of sexual violence in conflict.”
She called for full humanitarian access to Tigray, including camps for displaced people “and refugee camps where new arrivals have allegedly reported cases of sexual violence.”
She voiced concern about “more than 5,000 Eritrean refugees in and around the area of Shire living in dire conditions, many of them reportedly sleeping in an open field with no water or food, as well as the more than 59,000 Ethiopians who have fled the country into neighboring Sudan.”
The caretaker administration in Tigray did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this month state television broadcast footage of a meeting during which an unidentified man in a military uniform expressed concern about rapes in Mekele.
“Why are women being raped in Mekele city?” the man said.
“It wouldn’t be shocking had it been happening during the war, because it is not manageable so it could be expected. But at this moment while federal police and local police are back in town, it is still happening.”