Legal Framework For Maternity And Childcare Benefits In India


In contemporary society, women have demonstrated their capabilities across diverse sectors, challenging the earlier societal  norms that confined their  role to household chores and childcare responsibilities. When the women started gaining employment outside their homes, numerous challenges including discrimination, unfavourable working conditions emerged. The pregnant women either had to leave or were dismissed from their jobs . In the initial section of the paper, the need and the historical evolution of maternity benefits have been discussed. To safeguard the rights of women, the Indian Constitution provides various rights and privileges including Right to Equality (Article 14), the the right to social equality in the employment (Article 16),  a sufficient means of livelihood( Article 39a),  equal pay for equal work ( Article 39d) and humane working conditions and maternity leave (Article 42). The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 was the first Act passed in independent India to protect the employability and ensure the rights of working mothers. However, it had only limited coverage and the employers had a tendency to hire fewer women. This paper attempts to analyse the provisions pertaining to maternity and child care benefits and ends with suggestions that could further ensure comprehensive protection of women.


Women have been an integral part of our culture since ancient times and their status has evolved significantly  from being restricted to the domestic space of the household to becoming  key contributors in the workforce. Bestowed with nature’s  gift of motherhood, it is the most beautiful and transformative phase in the life of a woman. However, it poses a challenge in front of working women to make a balance between the conflicting demands of health, family and work-life domains. With the emergence of the system of wage labour in the industrial settings, some employers tended to dismiss the women from their jobs when they believed that the maternity was affecting their ability to perform their regular duties. Therefore, many female workers either had to go on leave without receiving any pay or had to bear a heavy strain to keep their efficiency during the periods of pregnancy.  

With a view to  protect women from these hardships, the concept of maternity benefits came into existence. These provisions take into account financial independence, adequate healthcare treatment and the recovery time required  by a woman. The maternal leave refers to a paid leave wherein the employer is liable to provide an amount equivalent to the employee’s  average daily wage for the duration of her actual absence. The following arguments highlight the importance of maternity benefits:

  1. The maternity leave allows a woman to take some time off to look after the child and to physically recover from childbirth. Various studies have indicated a positive correlation between maternity leave and improved physical as well as mental health. A study in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy observed the health data on mothers in Norway both before and after paid maternity leave became mandated by law in 1977 and it was found that those women who gave birth after the implementation of law experienced improved overall health as they approached middle age. The women involved in low-income jobs were less likely to smoke or experience high blood pressure and were more likely to exercise regularly. A review in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry highlighted that the paid maternity leave is also closely associated with increase in paediatric visits and  the timely administration of immunizations.
  2. The provision of maternity benefits helps in reducing the gender bias by explicitly protecting the rights of all women in the reproductive age to participate in the workforce without any form of discrimination. It encourages women to pursue professional careers and helps to empower them, thereby breaking stereotypes that only a man can be a bread earner. Thus, the maternity benefits  provide equality of opportunity by enabling the workers to raise families in conditions of security.
  3. Maternity benefits recognize new parenthood by providing support and resources during the period surrounding childbirth. It acknowledges the adequate care a mother as well as a child requires and further extends to offer postpartum support such as access to nursing breaks and affordable postnatal healthcare.
  4. The maternity leave fosters a strong bond between the mothers and their newborns during the crucial earlier months of life. This stage of a baby’s life is essential for nurturing a child’s holistic development and their journey to become a flourishing adult. 
  5. Maternity benefits safeguard the working women’s rights to remain self-reliant and economically independent by ensuring financial security without any fear of losing her job due to motherhood. With the provision of maternity benefits, women can return to their work and continue working towards promotions.
  6. Maternity benefits are positively correlated with reduced infant mortality rates. An empirical study conducted by McGill University and the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health revealed that for each additional month of paid maternity leave offered in low- and middle-income countries, infant mortality is reduced by 13%.
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Amisha Bhalla