[Answered]“Maternity benefits, are veryimportant for a working women but the vast majority of Indian women, are left on their own and are unable to enjoy present maternity benefits.”Discuss.

Demand of the question

Introduction. Contextual Introduction.

Body. Discuss how maternity benefits acts are benefitting only a few?

Conclusion. Way forward.

Maternity benefits are important for large population of women in India especially who are are working. Government has launched various schemes like Maternity benefit act, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) etc. Unfortunately the benefits under these schemes have not reached to women much due to various issues. There are concerns that the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017 and PMMVYthat have a negative impact in the women well-being. There is a need for better understanding on the issue to materialise the genuine objectives behind.

Maternity benefits- benefitting few:

  1. Maternity Benefit Act: Maternity benefits, are only for a small minority of Indian women employed in the formal sector and covered, in principle at least, under the Maternity Benefit Act. The vast majority of pregnant women areleft behind.
  • The National Commission for Women (NCW) received a lot of complaints from women that they are being denied maternity benefits at the workplace. This comes even after the government amended key guidelines to increase the period of paid maternity leave to 26 weeks from 12.
  • The high costs of maternity leave drive companies to discriminate against women in higher-level jobs.
  • Childcare is treated solely as women’s responsibility. Unspecified parental leave ends up being taken mainly by women. In India, central government employees get only 15 days of paternity leave.
  • Around 93% Indian women workers are in the informal sector. The 2017 Maternity Benefit Act does not apply to them.
  • It is also unclear about women working on family farms, doing home-based work, urban self-employed, casual workers on contract.
  • Even in the formal sector, the child will need care after 6 months of maternity leave. But India largely lacks facilities where women can leave their children for care. Integrated Child Development Services to provide nutrition and childcare up to 6 years of age, lack in quality and coverage.
  1. Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY):Under the National Food Security Act, 2013, all pregnant women (except those already receiving similar benefits under other laws) are entitled to maternity benefits of ₹6,000 per child. In pursuance of this announcement, a maternity benefit scheme was rolled out- the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY). Issues in PMMVY are:
  • The coverage and benefits are less (compared with NFSA norms, which are very modest in the first place). This defused public demand for PMMVY.
  • The application process is tedious. Aside from filling a long form for each instalment, women have to submit a series of documents, including their ‘mother-and-child protection’ card, bank passbook, Aadhaar card and husband’s Aadhaar card. Essential details in different documents have to match, and the bank account needs to be linked with Aadhaar.
  • There are frequent technical glitches in the online application and payment process. When an application is rejected, or returned with queries, the applicant may or may not get to know about it. Grievance redressal facilities are virtually non-existent.
  • There’re also Aadhaar-related problems. Some of them are- rejected payments due to mismatch (like in the spelling of the beneficiary’s name) between a person’s Aadhaar card and bank account. More than 20% of the respondents mentioned that they had faced difficulties because the address on their Aadhaar card was that of their parents’ home, not of their in-laws’ house.

There is a need for more comprehensive and gender-balanced alterations to the maternity benefit act and PMMVY. Media campaigns to change social norms, favouring childcare by fathers are essential. It is surely a joint social responsibility and not just the mother’s. What is needed is pro-active role of both states and centres to ensure maternity benefit and proper implementation of the schemes.

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