Press Statement issued by Ms.Sushmita Dev, MP & Spokesperson, AICC
India sees around 2.97 crore pregnant women each year. Even if the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is fully implemented, studies show that it will benefit only 18 lakh women in the organised sector leaving out practically 99% of the country's women workforce.
Indian National Congress would like to point that the amendment will benefit only a minuscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country's unorganised sector such as contractual workers, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives.
Indian National Congress condemns the fact that there is no recognition of paternity leave and this move fails to initiate attitudinal changes towards perception of women as bread earners. Such a move by the government stereotypes women into their traditional gender roles. The government has also wasted an opportunity to bring gender parity at the workplace by recognizing that child care is the responsibility of both parents and not just the mother.
As per the Bill while women will be provided with 26 weeks of maternity leave for two children, the period of leave for a third child will be 12 weeks. This could affect the growth and development of the third born child.
Congress party would like to point out that by excluding adoptive fathers recognized under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015; surrogate mothers recognized under the Draft Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016; and transgender parent this Bill is biased against parents recognized as such by the Indian laws.
The Bill introduces maternity leave up to 12 weeks for a woman who adopts a child below the age of three months, and for commissioning mothers. The amendment is biased against an adopted child above three months of age as in such a case theadoptive mother will not be granted maternity leave. Not only does this provision overlook the rigorous adoption procedures under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 that would make it difficult to adopt a child below three months. This amendment also does not borrow from the Guidelines Governing Adoption of Children, 2015 which provides adoptive leave to parents irrespective of the age of the child.
Has the focus of lawmakers only been on children that need to be breastfed? Are the needs of a grown up child adopted in a new household any less than a newborn requiring nutritional enrichment? By taking such a restrictive view not only are the provisions of this Bill biased against the adoptive mother but also defeat the larger vision of welfare of all children irrespective of age.
As the draft Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016 does allow altruistic surrogacy there is no reason why a surrogate mother engaging in an altruistic service, recognized by law must be excluded from maternity benefits that every other mother will receive. Thus, this Bill is fraught with bias against fathers in general and adoptive fathers in particular, transgender parent as well as surrogate mothers.
There are several labour laws that provide maternity benefits to women in different sectors. These laws differ in their coverage, benefits and financing of such benefits. There needs to be cohesion between various laws for beneficiaries to fruitfully avail benefits.
The Indian National Congress demands the Government to include a non-discrimination clause in the bill so that no person is discriminated against in employment for having availed any parental benefits. Without which the government's attempt to introduce these amendments for increasing female work force participation which is only 21.9% is shallow and empty.