Thiruvananthapuram: The provisions in the Maternity Benefit (Amen-dment) Act, 2017 mandate setting up of creches at offices with over 50 employees. However, the unemployment rate for young educated mothers with children less than three years old is on the rise in the state due to lack of affordable and safe creche facility.
Young mothers are forced to give up their jobs and be with the kids until they turn three or six years. Though the Maternity Benefit Act mandates setting up of creche facility, the state government is yet to initiate steps to enforce this. It is learnt that the state government is yet to start measures to frame and notify rules prescribing amenities and facilities required in a creche attached to a workplace.
Praveena Kodoth, professor at Centre for Development Studies, says that educated women between 28 and 30 years are forced to give up their jobs despite high aspirations for employment following motherhood. “Lack of safe and affordable pre-schooling is the prime reason. They are forced to give up good years of their career and later they struggle to find their way back into the workforce. They are forced to settle down with minimum pay despite having high education,” says Praveena. She feels that women in rural Kerala are at the receiving end. “There should be community pre-schools so that women in the unorganized sector could depend on them confidently,” she says.
“In the budget, the state government has announced many women-friendly projects to eradicate unemployment among women. But pro-active planning is not happening from the part of the government to facilitate young mothers to take up jobs which are flexible with their tight schedules,” Praveena adds. She says that safe pre-school facilities and improving the standards of anganwadis in the state are crucial. “There is a paid creche at Technopark, but the demand is so huge that the facility is inadequate,” Praveena adds.
Sonia George of SEWA says that women workers in the unorganised sectors are having a hard time taking care of their children. “Safe facility for taking care of the kids is the need of the hour. Even anganwadis give admission to children aged over three-and- a-half years. Children between 0-3.5 years have no quality facilities and mothers are forced to stay at home to take care of them,” Sonia says.
Currently, the creches at secretariat and Assembly are the two facilities in the public sector in Thiruvananthapuram. According to Sheela Kumar, general secretary of Women’s Welfare Society at the secretariat, there is a huge demand for the creche facility at the secretariat, which was set up 30 years ago. “During vacation, the demand is more. The project to expand the facility is yet to take off and the employees pay around `1000-`1500 for availing of the facility. We run it with no support from the government,” says Sheela Kumari.
Mr S.P. Deepak, general secretary of Kerala Council for Child Welfare, says that the council is ready to provide all technical support for institutions to set up creche facility at their workplace. “When there was a discussion, the council expressed its willingness to provide all support, including trained professionals for running the facility. But there should be a comprehensive study and the government should form a committee to check these creches. There should be a system in place to ensure that the Act is enforced,” Mr Deepak says.