According to Sri Lanka Labour Force Survey – 2015, only 38.5 percent of Sri Lankan women over 20 years of age are in the labour force. One major reason for women to be out of labour force is the obligations towards children. Childcare is mainly mother's duty in Sri Lankan social and cultural background.
There is wide gap between the labour regulations and the government's health standards on lactating. Babies are recommended only breast milk for six months. According to Section 3 of the Maternity Benefits Ordinance Number 32 of 1939 and its amendment in 1985, a pregnant employee is entitled to 12 weeks (2 weeks before and 10 weeks after confinement) inclusive of holidays (84 calendar days) for the first two births and 6 weeks or 42 calendar days for any subsequent birth if she has two children living.
According to the Ordinance, the employers may not employee a pregnant woman on work that may be injurious to her or her child
The law also requires employers of more than a specified number of women workers to provide child care facilities for children under five years old and authorizes the promulgation of regulations regarding those facilities. Also makes provision for nursing intervals for nursing mothers who have returned to their employment.
Lactating mothers are entitled to not less than one hour interval in addition to other intervals to attend to breastfeeding of the babies.
However, most of these regulations are not practically implemented in Sri Lanka. In some cases, the employers as well as employees are unaware of the laws and there are are other employers who do not respect the laws.
In most cases, the lactating mothers travel long distances to work. Many working mothers reluctantly have to leave the babies in others' care and to be fed with milkpowder after four months' maternity leave.
Surekha Samarasena is a private sector employee who works in Colombo. She travels daily from Rathnapura leaving the one year old baby with Sureka's mother. "In my clinic alone, four mothers left employment recently because of lack of crete facilities. One such mother was a quantity surveyor. She earned more than her husband and she was very reluctant to leave the job but she had no other option. The other employed women who left work engaged in accounts, clerical and garment sectors."
"The Heads of some state institutions do not understand that their breastfeeding employees need a creche facility. Some mothers give up breastfeeding on misinformation and feed their infants with milk powder, Health Services Acting Director General Dr. J.M.W.Jayasundara Bandara said recently addressing a health seminar on 'Sustaining Breastfeeding Together,' held in Health Education Bureau in Colombo.
Public sector provides 84 days compulsory maternity leave with full payment, another 84 days half-paid maternity leave and further 84 days no-pay leave on mothers' choice whereas a few state institutions have provided creche centre facilities for their breastfeeding employees. Creche centre facilities were part of the estate infrastructure in the past but most of them are now not operating due to austerity measures.
"When a country moves forward, it needs to protect and develop human capital. This is why we need to ensure that every infant gets breast milk which prevents diseases and ensure immunity," Bandara said.
Sri Lanka became the first country in the world in World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative - 2016's policy and progress scores.
"It is good if all Sri Lankan mothers can be granted six months of full-paid maternity leave in order to create a healthy and productive future generation," Consultant Community Physician Dr. Dhammika Rowel said addressing the health seminar.
"Private companies can benefit by providing 'Creche Centres/facilities' for their female breastfeeding employees. The companies and business ventures can lower their absenteeism rate, health care cost and turnover rates. Companies can expect employees to return to work earlier from maternity leave. It could also provide higher employee productivity and boost morale. Higher employer loyalty can be expected, while the company would gain public recognition as a 'family friendly' company/business," she added.
Nalaka Umagiliya, Vice President of John Keells Holdings PLC said participating an inter-generation dialogud hosted by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “In my work environment, we provide facilities for maternity, We have seen many women quit jobs after they give birth to the first child. It is proved through data. Industries lose expertise because of this.
"For the IT industry the time needed to double the knowledge is three and half years. One who is out of the industry for three and half years can be obsolete because of this. It is a challenge in IT sector to sustain the resources. It is one reason for the female population being out of the core designer architect level creators," Umagiliya pointed out.
Child Protection Authority of Sri Lanka announced in 2016 that the new regulations would be introduced to the day care centres with the support of the Children's Secretariat and the Prime Ministers' office. The Authority announced that the correct data on the day care centres country wide will be first gathered.
Most of these day care centres are women's enterprises which are below standard mainly due to poor capital investments. They are crammed spaces sometimes and lack basic facilities for children. Helping the day care centres may be beneficial to the society in two ways, i.e. promoting women's entrepreneurship and female participation in labour force.
(Some quotes of this article have been taken from Daily News)