As India rethinks labour rules, one item not on the agenda: Childcare facilities for women workers -Mirai Chatterjee

Full-day, quality childcare can make a crucial difference in India’s fight against malnutrition, and can possibly enhance incomes of working women.

Savitaben is a tobacco worker in Rasnol village, Gujarat. She has two young children under five years of age, and every morning she leaves them in a crèche run by the Self-Employed Women’s Association or SEWA, a trade union of over 15 lakh poor, self-employed women workers. The children are cared for by Sumanben and Shardaben, both farmers and now childcare workers of the cooperative. “Earlier agricultural labourers like me would put our babies in a sari tied between two trees,” said Savitaben. “Sometimes they would fall out and we could not hear their cries from the field. Now our children are safe, get two hot meals a day and I can work two shifts and earn in peace.”

Savitaben is one of the millions of women working long hours for low wages in India’s informal economy, which employs more than 90% of its workforce. And yet, as a nation, it has hardly recognised the importance of full-day, quality childcare for them. There have been many numerous discussions on the continuing poor health and nutritional status of India’s young children. Every few years, fresh data from the National Family Health Surveys reveals its slow progress in these areas.

However, despite voluminous evidence showing the effectiveness of daycare facilities in improving the health of children and women, the recent government-proposed Labour and Social Security Codes barely feature childcare or maternity benefits for informal workers. Their inclusion had just not occurred to our policymakers, most of whom are men. It was up to some of us, mostly women working with informal workers, to bring these to the attention of the Ministry of Labour, during consultations held this year to discuss the codes, which could be tabled in Parliament in the ongoing Winter Session.

In recent years, SEWA along with 300 other organisations, working with the families of the working poor, have come together in a national campaign to ask for quality childcare as a right. This will mean mandatory adequate government investment in full-day, free, quality, holistic and integrated early childhood care; workers at the centres receiving appropriate training, minimum wages, and basic benefits; and maternity entitlements for women. The organisations are part of FORCES, a coalition working for child rights and childcare formed after the landmark Shramshakti report on informal women workers in 1988.

Please click here to read more., 31 December, 2018,

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