India more than doubles maternity leave to boost child health, female workforce

India now gives the third longest duration of fully paid maternity leave in the world. (AFP)
Updated 10 March 2017
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India more than doubles maternity leave to boost child health, female workforce

NEW DELHI: India will more than double maternity leave, allow work from home and require employers to have crèches to improve maternal and child health and boost a declining female workforce.
A bill approved by parliament late on Thursday increases fully paid leave to 26 weeks from 12 weeks, provides leave for adoptive mothers for 12 weeks, and facilitates a work from home option for nursing mothers.
It also mandates organizations with more than 50 employees to provide crèche facilities and allow the mother at least four crèche visits daily to look after and feed her child.
“The maternity bill is a historic step as it puts us in the top countries in the world that care for new mothers,” Maneka Gandhi, minister for women and children, said on Friday.
“With 26 weeks to care for their newborns, both mother and child will be healthier,” she said in a video on the ministry’s Facebook page.
India has high rates of child malnutrition, yet only 55 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, compared with 70 percent in neighboring Nepal and 76 percent in Sri Lanka.
Female participation in the workforce in India has been declining in recent years, with only 22 percent of women in working in the formal economy, well below the global average of 47 percent, according to UN Women.
Extending maternity leave will encourage more women to return to work and help close the gender gap in the labor market, gender experts say, as many women reluctantly drop out of work because they need more time for their newborns.
“Women should not have to choose between becoming a mother and keeping their job, and the amendment of the Maternity Bill is a landmark step in this direction,” said Poonam Muttreja, executive director of Population Foundation of India.
The move puts India among the most generous countries globally in terms of the amount of maternity leave afforded to women. Canada allows for 50 weeks, while Norway gives 46 weeks.
The government says the law will benefit 1.8 million women in the formal sector, but activists point out around 90 percent of the India’s female workforce is in the unorganized sector, and remains unprotected and at risk of labor exploitation.
The law, due to come into force after the president’s assent, will apply to all workplaces with 10 or more employees. (Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Astrid Zweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.


EU slaps sanctions on Syrians, Russians over attacks

Updated 21 January 2019
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EU slaps sanctions on Syrians, Russians over attacks

  • EU foreign ministers slapped travel bans and asset freezes on nine people and on Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center

BRUSSELS: The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions on four Russians blamed for a nerve agent attack in Britain as well as a Syrian research center and its staff as the 28-nation bloc stepped up its action against the use of chemical weapons.
EU foreign ministers slapped travel bans and asset freezes on nine people and on Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center.
Five of those targeted are linked to the Syrian center’s activities. Britain’s foreign office said they “have played a central role in the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against their own people.”
The four Russians on the list are the two men accused of planting the nerve agent in Salisbury last March, Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin, and their superiors, the head and deputy head of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence unit.
The ministers said in a statement from their meeting in Brussels that the sanctions move “contributes to the EU’s efforts to counter the proliferation and use of chemical weapons, which poses a serious threat to international security.”
It’s the first time the EU has imposed sanctions to combat chemical weapons.
“Today’s new sanctions deliver on our vow to take tough action against the reckless and irresponsible activities of the Russian military intelligence organization, the GRU, which put innocent British citizens in serious danger in Salisbury last year,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement.
“We will continue to show our willingness to stand up for the international rules that keep us safe, and which the Kremlin and the Assad regime seek to undermine,” he added.