Govt to extend maternity leave in private sector from 12 weeks to 26 weeks

The central government is planning to increase the duration of maternity leave in private sector from the existing 12 weeks to 26 weeks, reports quoting women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi said on Monday.

The minister said the ministry of labour has agreed to her ministry's proposal to increase maternity leave for women employees to six-and-a-half months.

"We had written to the labour ministry asking that the maternity leave be extended taking into account the six months of breastfeeding that is required post childbirth. The labour ministry has agreed to increase it to six-and-a-half months," Maneka Gandhi was quoted as saying.

"A proposal to increase maternity leave from existing 12 weeks to 26 weeks under the Maternity Benefit Act will benefit women employed in the establishments covered under the Act," minister for labour and employment Bandaru Dattatreya had informed Parliament on 23 December.

Dattatreya had also announced that the government was also mulling a provision for a 16-week maternity leave for women who adopt child of up to three months of age.

The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 entitles female workers to a maximum of 12 weeks (84 days) of maternity leave, starting from 6 weeks before the date of delivery. This leaves only six weeks or roughly one and a half months for post-natal care of both mother and child.

In fact, with a six month lactating period prescribed for effective child care, the women and child development ministry is likely to push for changing it to 32 weeks of paid leave from the proposed 26 weeks.

"The labour ministry has decided on six-and-a-half months following meetings with various stakeholders. We, however, feel that eight months of maternity leave - for women in government as well as private sectors - is required. We will move a note to the Cabinet Secretariat in this regard. Six months of exclusive breastfeeding is very important to combat malnutrition, diarrhoea and other diseases in infants and to lower infant mortality rate," a report in the The Indian Express quoted a ministry official as saying.

An extended maternity leave is also expected to encourage more women who reluctantly drop out of work because they need more time for their newborns, to return to work.