Working women will soon get six months’ maternity leave to take care of their newborns instead of the three months allowed earlier.
New mothers will get their full salary during this time.
The government has proposed this amendment to the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961, with an eye on the rate of malnourishment in newborns that is as high as 47 per cent. The infant mortality rate in the country is 59 deaths for every 1,000 births.
The Centre believes that extending the maternity leave would address these problems.
A Planning Commission document saw lack of enough breastfeeding in the first six months as the cause for the high rate of infant deaths.
Planning Commission member Sayeeda Hamid told the Hindustan Times that studies have shown that breastfeeding was necessary for a child’s health in the first six months.
“By increasing the maternity leave, this challenge can be dealt with to some extent,” she said.
In a slew of measures to improve the dismal child nourishment record, Hamid said, the government plans to bring in a scheme to pay poor mothers for pre- and post-natal care over the next five years.
The money would be given to improve micronutrient content for the mother and child, she said.
The commission has also proposed that the allocation for child nutrition be doubled and the Integrated Child Development Scheme be universalised.
The annual budget of the child scheme is around Rs 3,500 crore.
It covers about 5.6 crore children less than six years of age, which is one-third of the total children in this age group.