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REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Maternal instincts.
UNEQUAL MOTHERS

Poorly nourished pregnant women are also badly overworked in rural India

By Manavi Kapur

India has one of the highest paid maternity benefits for working women in the world. But that law means nothing to most women in the country.

Just 49% of those eligible for the central government maternity benefits scheme received any payment, according to the Jachcha Bachcha Survey conducted by economists Reetika Khera and Jean Drèze. A large majority of women working in the unorganised sector, and those who run entire households while being pregnant, are entitled to just Rs5,000 ($69.49) for their first-born child under the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY). 

A low coverage of this scheme meant that it did little to improve the lives of pregnant and nursing women. 

The survey, which took into account the six northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, and Himachal Pradesh, found that women in these states face extreme hardship during a time when their bodies need the most rest and nutrition.

“We were shocked to find how little attention was paid, in the sample households, to the special needs of pregnancy—good food, extra rest and health care. Often, family members or even women themselves had little awareness of these special needs,” wrote Khera and Drèze.

Nursing women (%)Pregnant women (%)
Proportion of respondents who were eating less during pregnancy4749
Proportion of respondents who were eating nutritious food every day during pregnancy2022
Proportion of respondents who were eating nutritious food more often than usual during pregnancy3124
Proportion of respondents who worked on family farms during pregnancy2018
Proportion of respondents who had no-one around to help with household work during pregnancy2126
Proportion of respondents who felt they did not get enough rest during pregnancy3830
Proportion of respondents who faced problems during pregnancy due to lack of money3034

The average weight that women gained during pregnancy was also woefully low. And this was only for the women whose weights were properly monitored. “For instance, 48% of pregnant women and 39% of nursing women in UP had no idea whether or not they had gained weight during pregnancy,” Khera and Drèze noted. This was particularly significant given that the PMMVY scheme was primarily meant to help women tide over financial difficulties of finding the right kind of food and medical aid.

Jachcha Bachcha Survey
Most women gain very little weight during pregnancy for lack of proper nutrition and awareness of the need to rest.

States differ

The other contention that the survey made was that the PMMVY replaced the entitlements pregnant women received under the National Food Security Act. Under the previous provision, women were to receive universal coverage of Rs6,000 for all births. The PMMVY restricts it to the first-born.

In states like Tamil Nadu and Odisha, maternity benefits are relatively superior, both in terms of what they offer, and their coverage. The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which has had a maternity entitlement programme in place since 1987, leads by a huge margin.

Law/schemeEntitlementFundingEligibilityCoverage (2017-18)
Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 201726 weeks paid leave for first two children; 12 weeks thereafterEmployerWomen working in establishments with 10 or more employees“Government does not maintain data centrally,” as per answer in parliament on Feb. 11
Employees State Insurance Act, 1948Up to 26 weeksGovernment (or
private employer and
employee)
For women whose establishment is covered by ESI Act, whose monthly salary is below Rs21,00045,400
National Food Security Act, 2013Rs6,000 lumpsumGovernmentAll births covered
Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana 2017Rs5,000, in three instalmentsGovernment, 60:40 sharing between centre and stateFirst child only, fulfilment of various ANC conditionalitiesApproximately 60 lakh (2018-19)
Mamata (Odisha), 2011Rs5,000, in two instalmentsWomen aged 19 and above, for the first two children; no restriction for women from particularly vulnerable tribal group6.1 lakh
Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy (Tamil Nadu) 1987Rs18,000 (Rs14,000 cash, Rs4,000 maternity nutrition kit), in five instalmentsWomen below the poverty line5.8 lakh (2016-17)
Kasturba Yojana (Gujarat) 2017Rs6,000 lumpsum, in three instalmentsState governmentWomen below the poverty line, all births