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Updated: September 20, 2012 17:17 IST

Left out of benefits

Aarti Dhar
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Exclusion instead of inclusion: Maternity benefits are irregular and insufficient. Photo: Lingaraj Panda
The Hindu Exclusion instead of inclusion: Maternity benefits are irregular and insufficient. Photo: Lingaraj Panda

The Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana that extends maternity benefits to women in the unorganised sector defeats its purpose by imposing eligibility criteria, says a new study

The preconditions laid down for taking benefit of the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana – maternity benefit scheme for women in the unorganised sector – are resulting in the exclusion of a majority of women from the scheme. Worse, these close to 60 per cent of the women who are deprived of the benefits of the scheme belong to the Dalit or tribal communities or are least educated.  

A compilation of two studies on healthcare and maternity protection for women wage workers in the informal sector in India ``The Crisis of Maternity’’, released by Dr Syeda Hamid, Planning Commission member, suggests that the two important eligibility criteria for availing benefits through the scheme are that the beneficiary should not have more than two living children and she should be more than 19 years of age.  

Quoting findings from the study advocate Shashi Bindhani of SODA (Odisha) said that it had closely examined the situation of 57 women in four blocks (45 revenue villages) in four States, all of whom stand excluded due to the eligibility criteria of IGMSY scheme. Almost all the women were Dalits, Scheduled Tribes and those who lack other social security benefits. The study, conducted by partners of the National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights, found that all of them had gone through three to seven pregnancies, where each episode of maternity exacerbates their vulnerability due to increased impoverishment and high expenses.  

“With high pregnancy wastage and poor availability of health care, they are never sure whether their baby will survive, despite which the state has penalised them for having more than two living children,” the study said.  

The revised maternity benefit scheme was launched in 2011 by the Union Women and Child Development Ministry that entitles a pregnant woman and lactating woman to periodical cash transfer up to Rs 4,000 to support nutrition and enhance early infant survival through promotion of exclusive breastfeeding for six months. The implementation of the scheme is through the platform of the Integrated Child Development Scheme and the focal point is the anganwadi centre.  

Dr Sebanti Ghosh of ASHA (West Bengal) pointed out that despite their contribution to the economy of the country, and their productive and reproductive contribution to the community, women wage workers in the informal sector (148 million) remain deprived of full maternity benefits, forcing them to continue with physical strenuous work till the eighth month and shorten their post-partum rest. In the absence of food security, they are compelled to compromise on their own requirements, even in pregnancy. Supplementary nutrition is crucial at this juncture, but the Public Distribution System and anganwadi services were reported to be irregular and inadequate. An ill equipped health system compounds the problem and pregnancy and childbirth is seen as a period of financial crisis as it may mean increased expenses and several weeks or months away from work.

 An overwhelming majority of women interviewed during the evaluation had opted for delivery at home; including those who had severe complications; and were largely assisted by family members. This has to be interpreted in a context where the nearest and most accessible health facility, did not have adequate facilities for childbirth. There is little clarity about how complicated cases were dealt with.  

Kalyani Meena of Prerna Bharti (Jharkhand) said given the abysmal conditions of women workers in the informal sector, the IGMSY scheme in its very design defeats the purpose that it sought to address by imposing preconditions of parity. The National Alliance has strongly recommended that unconditional maternity benefits, universal health coverage, and universal food security for all women, without any conditions, is a primary requirement for the improvement of maternal nutrition, reduction of maternal anaemia and prevention of maternal mortality.   

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