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.


ANALYSIS: Pakistan’s new government unlikely to improve ties with Kabul

Updated 45 min 4 sec ago
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ANALYSIS: Pakistan’s new government unlikely to improve ties with Kabul

  • Analysts says Ghani’s politically and ethnically divided government has neither the ability nor the options to reduce the new wave of tension and mistrust between the two countries
  • Pakistan may resort to putting further pressure on Kabul until a new Afghan government is in place, say experts

KABUL: When Imran Khan won Pakistan’s elections last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was one of the first leaders to congratulate him. Ghani issued an official invitation to Khan to visit Kabul in an effort to start a new chapter in the historically uneasy relations between the two neighbors.
The sense of optimism in Kabul followed Khan’s pledge in his victory speech that he wanted a EU-style soft border with Afghanistan despite the fact that he had struck a pro-Taliban stance in the past.
Less than a month on, that sense of optimism seems to have faded following events on the battlefield, particularly a major assault by the Taliban on the city of Ghazni last week.
Local officials allege that Pakistan assisted the Taliban in Ghazni, and Ghani subsequently stated that Taliban soldiers wounded in the attack had been taken to Pakistan for treatment.  All of which reduces the odds of any improvement in relations in the near future.
Analysts have suggested that Ghani’s politically and ethnically divided government, which has suffered a number of successive losses in battle, has neither the ability nor the options to reduce the new wave of tension and mistrust between the two countries.
They predict that, instead, Pakistan may resort to putting further pressure on Kabul until a new Afghan government is in place. Presidential elections are currently slated for April.
“I do not think that these challenges and tensions will decrease until a new government comes to power here,” Ahmad Saeedi, an analyst who served as a diplomat in Pakistan told Arab News. “There will be even tougher times ahead, with militants possibly targeting more major cities and even Kabul.”
Saeedi said that recent talks between the Taliban and US officials may further embolden the Taliban to step up their attacks so they can speak from a position of strength in future talks, something he said Islamabad wants in order to balance India’s growing influence in Afghanistan.
He added that Washington and NATO — both of whom have troops in Afghanistan — may only want to prevent the total collapse of Ghani’s government, but that they do not seem to trust “the government’s weak leadership to have the ability to govern.”
Waheed Mozdah, another analyst, said Afghan officials have no strong evidence to prove Pakistan’s involvement in the Taliban’s victory in Ghazni, which has struck another major blow to Ghani’s administration.
He pointed out, too, that Ghani’s allegations are unlikely to help improve relations with Pakistan. “After Ghani’s allegations, I do not think Imran Khan even will visit Afghanistan,” he said. “Ghani’s comments are not helpful at all. He seems to have turned the new government in Pakistan against him.”
When contacted by Arab News, government spokesman Shah Hussain Murtazawi said Kabul expected these problems to be solved, but did not elaborate on the government’s plans to do so.
During a recent visit to Ghazni, Ghani accused Khan of not honoring his pledge as an ethnic Pashtun and directed the same charge at Pakistan’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.
“Imran Khan, you are the son of Pashtun parents. Investigate this and give me an answer. Gen. Bajwa, you have repeatedly given me assurances over phone calls that special attention would be given to the issue of peace in Afghanistan once elections took place in Pakistan. Now give me an answer,” Ghani said, while addressing a group of tribal elders attending the jirga on Friday.