India’s maternity leave law is considered among the most generous in the world – the third most generous in fact. In 2017, when the country passed its Maternity (Amendment) Bill, it increased the right to paid maternity leave for working women from 12 weeks up to 26 weeks.
But recently, it has been found that this seemingly generous maternity law benefits merely 1 percent of India’s female population, because the law is applicable only to those who work in a company with at least 10 employees; a miniscule proportion of the small number of women in India who work legally. Human and maternal rights advocates are in an uproar that such a fuss should have been made celebrating a bill that benefits a mere few, and it makes me wonder: the legal rights of working mothers are so well documented today – but what of those of working fathers? They are, after all, equal participants in parenthood, and are equally deserving of time off to be able to share those precious early days of their children’s lives. But according to data released last year by UNICEF, almost two-thirds of the world’s children under the age of one live in countries where dads are not legally entitled to paid paternity leave. That’s right. Ninety-two countries do not currently have national policies in place that ensure new fathers get paid time off with their newborn babies, including in countries like India and Nigeria, which all have extremely high infant populations. Instead, paternity policy is typically decided on by employers.
Perhaps most significantly, the U.S. is recognised as among the world’s world in terms of paternity and maternity leave, as most fathers receive no pay during the period after their child is born. The only law that supports parents seeking leave from the workplace in the aftermath of adoption or the birth of a baby is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which “protects” new parents’ jobs from penalty in pay or position for up to 12 weeks following the child’s birth or adoption. However, it does not entitle new parents to pay during this period, although a growing number of states in the U.S. have introduced paid leave policies in recent years, according to UNICEF.
But really, what is on offer to new parents in the U.S. is nothing compared to that on offer in Europe and Scandinavia. Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, France and Spain put the U.S. to shame when it comes to paid paternity leave, with Iceland giving 120 days paid leave at 80 percent of the full salary, and Norway offering 70 days paid leave. It’s actually embarrassing. How is one of the most developed countries in the world – the U.S. – lagging so far behind? Even countries like Estonia and Lithuania beat the U.S. in terms of paternity allowances, with Lithuania allowing fathers four weeks, and giving parents an additional 156 weeks to split or share. For this shared portion, parents can decide whether to receive their full salary at 100 percent for the first 52 weeks, or 70 percent for the first 104 weeks, with the remaining weeks unpaid. Just think what could be gained from such generous schemes – rather than fathers sacrificing their salaries to share those precious early moments with their children, they could instead invest their salaries into different types of trusts for their children for later on in life, or on a better education for their child.
Lower-income or lower middle-income countries with high infant populations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Brazil also have paid paternity leave policies – albeit with relatively short-term entitlements. But this is still leaps and bounds ahead of America. Tajikistan, a low-income country, and some lower-middle-income countries, like Uzbekistan and Mongolia, offer more than 14 weeks of paid leave for new fathers, in fact.
Interestingly, India’s neighbors Japan and South Korea are among the most generous providers of paternity leave policies in the world, allowing a full year of paid leave to fathers who choose to take it. The thing is, very few dads take advantage of it, apparently. Why is this? Do they fear the professional repercussions of taking time off work? Do they fear the stigma that surrounds paternity leave? Are they reluctant to encroach upon Mum’s time with the baby? Do they feel that taking leave is redundant, because the mother is already at home caring for the baby?
Workers are, of course, the backbone of society. Without people working, productivity would cease, GDP would plummet, and business would suffer. But not every man becomes a father, and in this day and age, in most developed countries, the average couple are having on average three or four children, maximum. This is significant because even if fathers were given a maximum of six months paid paternity leave per child, their leave would accumulate to no more than two years altogether – nothing, really, when one considers how many years the average male works throughout his lifetime.
Those initial months of a child’s life one earth are truly special. Dad’s deserve to be there, too.