Union minister for child and women development Maneka Gandhi wants men demanding paternity leave to prove their commitment to their babies first, before Parliament considers giving fathers of newborns the same consideration as mothers.

“Paternity leave can be considered only if, once the woman goes back to work after her 26 weeks of leave, we find that men are availing their sick leave for a month to take care of the child,” Gandhi told The Indian Express. “Let me see how many men do that. I will be happy to give it, but for a man, it will be just a holiday, he won’t do anything.”

Gandhi’s scepticism stems from the undocumented, but strongly anecdotal belief that men in India do not even take the various leaves due to them to help with childcare at home.

It was Gandhi who pushed through the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in the Union cabinet, that increases maternity leave in the corporate sector from the current 12 weeks to 26 weeks in the organised sector, and allows 12 weeks of leave to adoptive mothers or mother with babies via surrogacy.

The new bill, now tabled in the Rajya Sabha but unlikely to be passed in the Lok Sabha till the winter session of Parliament, encourages companies to allow new mothers to work from home, and mandates a crèche in every firm that employs 50 people or mother.

This bill, if passed, will put India on par with countries that have the highest levels of fully-paid maternity leave, such as those in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.

But without paid paternity leave as well, India will not figure among those 78 nations that believe childcare is the responsibility of both parents.

The demand for paternity leave in India is being made by civil society in general, as well as several women MPs.

The argument goes that by providing only maternity leave, the law will simply reinforce the belief that childcare is solely the mother’s responsibility.

However strong this argument may be, Gandhi remains sceptical. “If men gave me one iota of hope by taking sick leave for child care, then yes, we can think of mooting a proposal for paternity leave,” she said.

Meanwhile, to avoid the misuse of paid maternity leave, the women and child development ministry is working on rules to ensure that women must have been working in a company for a certain amount of time before availing the leave.

Arguments in favour of paternity leave

-Mandating only maternity leave will reinforce the belief that childcare is solely the responsibility of the mother

-Longer maternity leave may bias employers against hiring women, as already seems to be the practice according to a recent by the National Commission for Women that shows corporate employers prejudiced against pregnant employees

-A labour ministry report released in 2011 shows that even the existing amount of maternity leave pressures working women, and suggests that paternity leave may help

Paternity leave in India

-A Central Civil Services Leave Rules notification issued in the 1990s allows biological and adoptive fathers who work in government departments to take 15 days of paid leave as paternity leave

-These 15 days may be merged with any other form of leave to make it longer if the father so desires

For the private sector, there is no mandatory law that permits paternity leave, though several firms do allow fathers of newborns leave for about a week on compassionate grounds

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