Poverty might be the biggest contributor to malnutrition in India. But policy-makers seem to believe that the inability of many working women to spend enough time with their newborn babes.
So the federal government is moving in to amend the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961, to enable working women to get maternity leave for six months with full pay. As of now they are entitled only for three months' leave.
The Act extends to the whole of India and is applicable to: • Every factory, mine or plantation (including those belonging to Government) and • An establishment engaged in the exhibition of equestrian, acrobatic and other performances, irrespective of the number of employees, and • To every shop or establishment wherein 10 or more persons are employed or were employed on any day of the preceding 12 months. Malnourishment in newborns is as high as 47 per cent and the infant mortality rate in the country is 59 deaths for every 1,000 births.
Planning Commission member Sayeeda Hamid told a leading English daily that studies had shown that breastfeeding was necessary for a child's health in the first six months. "By increasing the maternity leave, this challenge can be dealt with to some extent," she said.
In a slew of measures to improve the dismal child nourishment record, Hamid said, the government planned to bring in a scheme to pay poor mothers for pre- and post-natal care over the next five years.
The money would be given to improve micronutrient content for the mother and child, she said.
The commission has also proposed that the allocation for child nutrition be doubled and the Integrated Child Development Scheme be universalised.
The annual budget of the child scheme is around Rs 3,500 crore.
It covers about 5.6 crore children less than six years of age, which is one-third of the total children in this age group.