In a welcome move, the Ministry of Labour is expected to make crèches mandatory in both government and private offices. The new provision in the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, will make it compulsory for all organisations with a minimum of either 30 women or 50 employees, to have a crèche inside their premises or one within a distance of 500 metres. This proposal, which had been put forward last year, is expected to be approved through an amendment by the Cabinet soon.
This would be part of a slew of new provisions for expectant and new mothers initiated by Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi. As always, it remains to be seen how well these policies are implemented on ground level. Officials said the proposed move is aimed at increasing women’s participation in the workforce post childbirth. Until now, it was only the Factories Act, 1948, which made having a crèche compulsory in factories.
The highlights of the amendment
- The move will apply to all establishments, whether public or private, such as IT firms, call centres, media companies, and big retail outlets. These crèches can be started either on a firm’s premises or two or more firms within 500 metres can get together and create a community crèche.
- The Ministry has also proposed that women adopting children aged less than three months as well as those who opt to have a child through a surrogate mother should also be eligible for 12 weeks of paid maternity leave.
- The provision is gender-neutral in most parts, using the word ‘employees’ instead of ‘women,’ since there may be situations where it is more convenient for fathers to take his child to the crèche at his workplace. Ministry sources claim, according to a report in The Indian Express, that the reason behind this move is also to promote a culture where the fathers are equally involved in childcare.
Though all the aspects of this new provision are commendable, the issue in India is often when it comes to enforcement. For example, the Maternity Benefit Act states that every woman who returns to work post-delivery should be allowed two breaks in the course of her day for nursing her child until the child is 15 months old. However, these breaks are mostly not allowed or do not happen due to practical issues.
If implemented, this provision can lead not just to fewer women dropping out of the workforce post-motherhood, but also lead to improved health and well-being of infants by making nursing easier. Along with the nutritional benefits that exclusive breastfeeding for six months gives the child, regular contact during work hours will also lead to reduced stress and improved psychological health and well-being of both mother and child.