Indian maternity law branded ‘elitist’

family law

A new maternity law in India has been branded “elitist” by critics.

Taking effect this week, the legislation extends the length of maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks. This actually gives the country a bigger allowance than the United States and France.

However, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling it “a step forward for Indian women”, the new rule has been criticised because it will only apply to a very small part of the female workforce.

Juin Dutta represents the Paatshala organisation, which supports female handicraft workers battling poverty. She said that it was “as if, for the government, 95 per cent of India’s women don’t even exist” as the new rule only applied to country’s ‘formal sector’. These are officially licenced employers such as corporations, hotels, shopping centres and other large businesses. However those who work for these companies only make up five per cent of the total workforce in India.

Aya Matsuura of the International Labour Organisation said the ‘informal sector’ rarely has written contracts of employment but rather operates using verbal agreements. So the 10 million Indian women who have jobs as maids, for example, “are not really covered by formal rules and are not recognised by law”. In total, the ‘informal sector’ employs as many as 435 million men and women “who never see the benefits of government laws” Matsuura said. An expectant mother in this workforce often has to “find a temporary replacement for herself, like a sister or a sister-in-law. Otherwise, she loses the job” she explained.

But Nidhi Gupta from the Takshashila Institute think-tank was more optimistic, calling the new law a step in the right direction despite some of its limitations. She dismissed the idea that companies would be cautious about employing women as a result of extended maternity leave. When the UK introduced the Equal Pay Act “the same argument was made” she said, adding that “studies have shown that it has not made employers less willing to hire women”.

Photo by NatCau2016 via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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