The shameful state of paid paternal leave worldwide

Precious cargo
Precious cargo
Image: REUTERS / Victor Ruiz Garcia
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Some 80 countries around the world will celebrate Father’s Day this month. And yet, in 92 countries, new dads don’t have access to adequate paid time off to bond with their newborn babies.

A new analysis released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shows that “almost two-thirds of the world’s children under one year old—nearly 90 million—live in countries where their fathers are not entitled by law to a single day of paid paternity leave.” That’s despite the increasingly large body of science that tells us meaningful interactions between newborns and dads can contribute to the child’s health and socioemotional development.

Paternal leave doesn’t just benefit kids, it also benefits new moms (pdf), helping to give women time to recover from pregnancy and childbirth. It also increases female employment because moms can return to work earlier, which in turn reduces the family’s poverty risk. And dads who take care of their children early tend to stay more involved in their kids’ lives as they grow up.

Momentum is growing worldwide for national policies that would give new dads paid leave to bond with their babies—led by countries like Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland, which offer generous and flexible parental leave policies. But much work remains to be done, especially in the United States, which is home to nearly 4 million infants. In fact, the US is one of only eight countries, including Suriname and Papua New Guinea, without a federally-mandated paid maternity or paternity leave policy.

“We have to ask more of governments and more of employers if we’re going to give fathers and mothers the time and resources they need to nurture their children, particularly during the earliest years of a child’s life,” says UNICEF executive director Henrietta H. Fore.

The regional breakdown below shows the extent of the regional disparities in countries’ paternity or parental leave policies around the world:

This reporting is part of a series supported by a grant from the Bernard van Leer Foundation. The author’s views are not necessarily those of the Bernard van Leer Foundation.