top of page
  • Writer's pictureAnahida Bhardwaj

Nurturing Nurseries: Crèche facilities and women in the workforce




India is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which give citizens the right to vote. Despite constitutional provisions like Article 41 and the landmark decision of the Supreme Court in Olga Tellis, recognising the right to work as an integral part of the right to life under Article 21, there is still dismal participation by women in the labour force- which stands at 24% (World Bank, 2022).


Women are expected to be both carers and breadwinners, making it difficult to balance the equities. It is not uncommon to hear of women leaving their careers after having a kid, whether by choice or need. In a 2015 survey performed by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, 100 new moms (interviewed in ten locations) were forced to leave their jobs after giving birth (D’Cunha, 2018).


The Law and Policy on Crèches

In India, Section 11(A) of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, amended in 1971 (‘the Amendment Act’) mandates establishments that employ 50 or more workers to establish crèches which women would be allowed to visit 4 visits a day by the employer. While Section 67 of the Code on Social Security, 2020 (‘the Code’) mandates the same, it has not been enforced as law yet. Further, the National Crèche Scheme for Children of Working Mothers (‘National Crèche Scheme’) was implemented in 2017 through States and Union Territories to provide daycare facilities to children, between the ages of 6 months to 6 years, of working mothers.


Benefits of Crèche Facilities

With the establishment of crèches, mothers would get more time to see and spend time with their children, which hopes to establish and nurture their relationship. It would also level the playing fields for both male and female employees, with the entitlement of being close to your child as also work contributing to the upliftment of women’s economic conditions. The economic participation of women would also help them earn a living, which would reduce their dependence on their spouses and other male relatives (Gethe and Pandey, 2023).


Roadblocks in the Implementation of the Law

Despite the legislative intentions, several challenges persist in the effective implementation of crèche facilities. Ambiguities in the definition of ‘50 or more employees’ raise concerns about compliance, and the responsibility for framing rules has led to a lack of uniformity among states. Despite India having 1 million active companies, per data provided by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, there is no information on how many of these companies employ 50 or more workers, for compliance purposes (Ranjan, 2021). This loophole can be misused by employers to not provide a mandated service to their employees. However, there seems to be a difference in legislation, as Section 48 of the Factories Act, 1948 does explicitly mention ‘female workers’ (Uma and Kamath, 2019). There needs to be some clarity on this situation moving forward, especially in the Code before being enforced.


Furthermore, a significant decrease in functional crèches under the National Crèche Scheme and budget cuts reveal a widening gap between policy and reality, with the number of Crèches going down from 25,000 for 6 lakh beneficiaries in 2013 to just 3,900 for 84,000 beneficiaries in 2024. The Budget Estimates for the National Crèche Mission have also been revised, with the original Rs. 200 Crore being brought down to Rs. 65 Crore. Limited awareness of legal maternity benefits, gendered perceptions of parenthood, and the exclusion of fathers from crèche access compound the problem.


Whose responsibility is it anyway?

There seems to be a game of passing the buck between various ministries, with the State Governments being deemed the ‘appropriate government’ under the Act to frame rules for prescribing amenities available at such crèches. So far, only two states have ratified such rules (Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Maharashtra, and Kerala have drafted the rules that remain to be ratified). The Amendment Act also does not provide clarity as to whether the provisions apply to workers in the unorganised sector, who would also require the same level of childcare (Rai and Niyogi, 2020). The current legal framework places the onus of establishing and maintaining crèches on employers, creating unintended consequences for small enterprises. The fear of increased costs and legal liabilities may discourage the hiring of female employees, potentially leading to reduced wages and a higher likelihood of women leaving the workforce (D’Cunha, 2018).


The Road Ahead

To bridge the gap between legislation and implementation, comprehensive policy interventions are imperative. Providing incentives such as property tax breaks to employers (adopted in the United States of America, where employers providing child-care facilities are entitled to a rebate of $150,000 annually in the event of using it for child-care facilities and services) and exploring public-private partnerships can encourage the establishment and maintenance of crèches. State governments, as the 'appropriate government,' should take an active role in providing clear guidelines to employers and consider incorporating mandatory crèche facilities in building plans. Additionally, involving fathers in crèche visits and conducting workplace surveys to address mothers' concerns can contribute to a more inclusive and effective system.


While mothers play a vital role in shaping the nation's future, the current crèche regime in India falls short of realizing its intended benefits. Discrimination against mothers persists in the private sector, necessitating proactive measures to encourage employers to support women in balancing motherhood and contributing to the nation's economic development. Bridging the gap between legislation and reality requires collaborative efforts from policymakers, employers, and society at large.


References:

  1. D’Cunha, Jean (2018): “Bold Maternity Benefit Act Can Become a Game Changer if it Addresses Current Limitations,” Economic and Political Weekly (Engage), Vol 53, No 31, pp 2-10.

  2. Gethe, Rajshree Karbhari and Pandey, Ashish (2023): “Impact of Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 [Amendment 2017] on job employment of working mothers in India,” International Journal of Law and Management, Vol 66, No 5, pp 373-404.

  3. Rai, Ila and Niyogi, S. (2020): “Critical study of sustainability of Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 in India,” DME Journal of Management Vol 1, pp 94-106.

  4. Ranjan, Anvita (2021): “The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961,” Indian Journal of Law and Legal Research, Vol 2, No 1, pp 1-6.

  5. Uma, Saumya and Kamath, Aditya (2019): “Gamechanger or a Trojan Horse? Some reflections on the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961,” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 54, No 20, pp 59-65.


About the Author

Anahida Bhardwaj is a first-year MA in Public Policy Student at the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy and the Chief Editor of the Policy Corner. She has an interest in technology, gender and law.


Comments


bottom of page