The Senate of Pakistan has passed a very progressive bill, the Maternity and Paternity Leave Bill, 2018. According to the bill, the employers must grant paid leaves to the employees, as they become parents to first, second and third child. However, the real test for the bill is the National Assembly (NA), as it has become apparent after the opposition of the government senators to the proposed law. Such behaviour towards progressive pieces of legislation is regrettable. Why did the government senators oppose the bill? Just because an opposition member presented it! The opposition to the bill shows that the government senators cannot think above petty political point-scoring.

Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar in his opposition to the bill says that the law provides for three-month maternity leave to female workers. Perhaps, he hasn’t gone through the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO). According to the WHO, six months of exclusive breastfeeding for optimal support of infant health and development is recommended. So the bill that the Senate approved is not for fun purposes. But the sad trend in Pakistani politics is that both sides in the upper and lower houses of the parliament oppose each other’s legislative documents for the sake of opposition.

Now that the bill will be presented in the NA, all need to give an ear to what UNICEF says in this regard. According to an evidence brief by the organization title Paid Parental Leave And Family-Friendly Policies, “Paid parental leave, both by supporting lengthier breastfeeding and by providing needed income, is likely to improve nutritional outcomes that are essential to healthy development.” Can one not say that the bill, in a way, is a practical step towards Imran Khan’s vision of overcoming stunted growth among our children? If the members of the ruling party ever try to not look at things from a crooked lens, they will understand the importance of this bill.

The Minister for Economic Affairs overlooks one fact in his criticism of the bill. The existing law, beyond limiting coverage to the employees in the government sector, does not protect the workers in the private sector. In the private sector, working contracts often contain qualifying conditions such as minimum contribution requirements, makes the existing law open to abuse. Moreover, instead of presenting any objective criticism of the bill, he confuses general leaves for male employees with paternal ones. According to UNICEF, male parents in Pakistan do not have paternal leaves. It is quite clear that the enacted law needs serious revision, and the Senate–approved bill is one that can rectify the situation. If the treasury benches want to oppose it in the NA, it should do so but only to make it more progressive.