Under the new provision, surrogate mothers and women who adopt a child aged below three months, too, will be entitled to 12 weeks off, from the day the baby is born or handed to them. All private companies with over 50 employees are expected to provide crèche facilities within a certain distance of the workplace and must allow mothers four visits to the crèche daily. New mothers also have the option of reaching a work-from-home arrangement with employers.

The bill comes as a big relief to millions of working women who often consider pregnancy the end of their careers. A 2015 study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (Assocham) revealed that 25% of urban Indian women quit their jobs after having their first child. The bill might now reduce this insecurity and help increase women’s participation in the labour force as also the retention rates.

Hidden flaws

On the flip-side, the amendment to the law could deter employers from hiring women in the first place.

A collection of anonymous accounts on the website “Pregnant then Screwed“ shows how expectant and new mothers are discriminated against in the workplace, and passed on for jobs and promotions. Being fired on account of pregnancy is illegal but still happens under the garb of “underperformance” and other ruses. The new rules do not guarantee that this bias will end.

“A blanket maternity leave sounds like a good idea and the move is absolutely well-intended, but it could be slightly detrimental because six months is a long time,” Sairee Chahal, founder of SHEROES, a portal exclusively catering to women job-seekers, had told Quartz. “These are tough times for businesses and paying an unproductive employee for six months may not be practical for a small business or a small school.”

Besides, the bill reinforces the idea of only mothers caring for newborns. The law does not compliment new-age nuclear families that increasingly believe in splitting the burden of parenting between mothers and fathers. While nearly three-quarters of Indian organisations do offer (short) paternity leave, in legal terms, it remains an alien concept in the country.

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