Maternity scheme fails to reach needy

Maternity scheme fails to reach needy

Most states have failed to offer the mandated payment of maternity benefit of Rs 6,000 to pregnant women.

Shouting “Bharat Maata ki Jai” is supposed to be the recent hallmark of patriotism and nationalism. But what of the real mothers of the nation, the ‘Bharat ki Maataein’? How are they faring?

At a recent public hearing organised by the Right to Food Campaign at New Delhi on maternity entitlements, case after case of how mothers are being treated in different states was made evident. Though the National Food Security Act of 2013 mandates payment of maternity benefit of Rs 6,000 to every pregnant woman (other than those in the organised sector), most states have failed to implement these provisions.

Women who are home-based beedi workers and tea-workers in West Bengal are not receiving any maternity benefit. A fact-finding mission has found
severe malnourishment among women tea-workers. Though there is no dearth in demand for tea across the world, 30-40% of these women are temporary workers and are paid Rs 95 as minimum wages in some places.

Often, women go to their native homes at the time of delivery where the Mother’s Card issued to them at their marital home is not valid.  Some women agricultural workers in Gujarat made to work till the last day before labour, have given birth to stillborn babies.

Of 150 women construction workers who gave applications for maternity benefit to a Construction Workers’ Welfare Board, only 11 have received maternity benefit, that too after delivery and not before. In a hilly tribal area in Jharkhand, three cases of maternal and infant deaths were reported within a period of three months as no government schemes are reaching them except Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY).

So, the question is whether there is a government only on flat ground and for non-tribals. A pregnant woman of Bengaluru, who was not given maternity leave, came out of the factory, gave birth to a child on the road and died.

Creches for garment workers in some places in Bihar are there in name only as women workers are not allowed to take feeding breaks. Supervisors ask them, “Do you want to work or look after your babies?” Due to lack of child-care facilities, many mothers are forced to either take their children along when they go to work or leave them at private day-care centres paying up to Rs 2,000 per month, which they can ill afford.

Experts are questioning why responsibility for care of pregnant women is being left to women alone when it should be a societal responsibility to care for mothers and the future citizens they bear.

Contrary to the above view, it was surprising that the Chairperson of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) stated that women fighting among themselves was the cause of their failure to get their rights.  She blamed parents for not looking after their children while they were busy earning. 

This was making children run away from bad parents and become anti-socials, she opined.  The whole problem was how to make good parents, she concluded. It was strange that the chairperson had nothing to say about what NCPCR itself would do to ensure better care for mothers and day-care for children.

Misleading affidavit
Questioned by the Supreme Court on the non-payment of maternity benefit under the NFSA, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has filed a misleading affidavit on October 30, 2015, claiming that it was planning to extend the Indira Gandhi Mattritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) from 53 pilot districts to 200 districts in 2015-16 and to all districts in 2016-17. 

It is estimated that about three crore women get pregnant every year.  If Rs 6,000 are to be given to each of them, then Rs 18,000 crore are needed every year.
However, the IGMSY has been allocated only Rs 400 crore this year, which is less than 3% of the requirement. The Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) has been made a right of every unorganised worker under the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, but few states have implemented this Act in earnest. No one is aware of the National Commission for Women raising its voice any time against non-payment of maternity benefits under the NFSA and other schemes.

Under most of these sche-mes, only two pregnancies are covered and girls married before they are 18 years are not eligible for benefits. The deaths of these child brides during child birth are what are causing the high maternal mortality rates in the country and the deaths of their underweight and weak babies are the ones adding to the high infant mortality rates (IMR). But these are the very mothers and children, who need greater care, whom we are excluding from the benefits. 

So this is the reason we did not meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and will not meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) too if we continue even now to exclude them from benefits. It is high time patriotism was hallmarked by providing better care for ‘Bharat ki Maataein’, and shouting “Bharat ki Maataon ki Jai!”

(The writer is the Executive Trustee of CIVIC, Bengaluru)

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