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Restricting maternity benefit to first child, institutional births to hit marginalized women: Right to Food Campaign

By Our Representative
Top advocacy group, the Right to Food Campaign (RTFC), has expressed its “deep disappointment” over what it has called “truncated Maternity Benefits Programme (MBP) approved by the Union Cabinet recently, wondering why it is restricted to the first birth and institutional births alone.
Even as welcoming the Maternity Benefits Act (MBA) amendment, which had expanded the maternity leave from 17 weeks to 26 weeks, RTFC in a statement says, it covers “only about 18 lakh women in the organized sector whereas over 2.7 crore deliveries take place in India each year.”
Pointing out that the MBA “does not include in its ambit more than 95% of women in the country who are in the informal sector”, RTFC says, “When the requirement of six months of paid leave has been accepted for women in the formal sector (public and private), it is unacceptable that a wage compensation of less than half of minimum wages, that too only for one birth, should be the norm for the rest of the women.”
"A pregnant or lactating woman having her first child will get up to Rs 6,000. Out of this, Rs 5,000 will be given by the women and child development ministry in three installments," Union minister Piyush Goyal had said at a cabinet briefing on May 17.
Pointing out that there is nothing new in what the Union Cabinet has offered, RTFC said,
“Maternity benefit of at least Rs 6000 for all pregnant and lactating women (except those working in government/public sector undertakings) is a legal entitlement for almost four years now, guaranteed under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013.”
Calling the Rs 6,000 maternity entitlements as “modest”, RTFC said, it is “barely equivalent to five weeks of minimum wages in Bihar, compared to the more than six months of paid leave offered in the formal sector.”
If earlier the maternal benefit as a pilot scheme was restricted to 53 districts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech on December 31, 2016 announced expansion of maternity benefits to all districts.
However, RTFC says, ever since “there have been indications that there will be a number of exclusions.”
Insisting that “there is no justification in restricting the scheme only the first birth, RTFC says, even the existing conditionalities attached for availing maternity benefits such as two child norm and age of marriage have been shown to be “fundamentally discriminatory to both women and children affecting the most marginalized and vulnerable women large from socially discriminated communities such as scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and minorities, putting their lives to risk.”
“In the process of universalisation rather than withdrawing all conditionalities from IGMSY, the new scheme makes it even more restrictive”, it underlines.
Calling another conditionality of linking maternity benefit to institutional delivery equally restrictive, RTFC regrets, it has been “merged with the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY)”, an older scheme that was started with an entirely different purpose which was to incentivize institutional deliveries.
“Maternity benefit is intended to provide wage compensation”, it said, adding, “Based on data from the latest National Family Health Survey, 21% of children born at home are already ineligible for JSY.”

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