THE International Finance Corporation’s study showing that 77 per cent companies in Bangladesh have no childcare facilities betrays a general apathy towards the well-being of children and working mothers despite having legal provisions stipulating such an arrangement. The study surveyed 306 private firms in Dhaka and Chattogram in May–June and found that only 23 per cent of them have childcare facilities, that too, of low quality. The study on business benefits and challenges of employer-supported childcare, made public on Wednesday, also says that 61 per cent of the companies have no plan for childcare facilities while 16 per cent of them claim having plans. The firms surveyed are found to have more than 40 women employee and, therefore — keeping to the Labour Act 2013 which specifies that companies with more than 40 female employees are required to offer child care — are legally bound to provide childcare facilities. In the absence of affordable, quality childcare facilities at work, women in many cases are forced to leave jobs which in turn negatively impact the economy and women’s empowerment.
The unemployment rate of women in Bangladesh is, as International Labour Organisation estimates say, almost double than that of men because women, who usually shoulder most of childcare responsibilities, leave their job when it comes to children’s well-being. Many women workers who continue with their jobs opt to leave their children with their family back home. The scenario, as other studies show, is more acute in the apparel sector where women account for about 80 per cent of the workforce. Working women are also deprived of antenatal and postnatal benefits, including the legally specified paid maternity leave of 16 weeks. Rights campaigners and economists have iterated that employer-supported child care could be a win-win case for both the employers and employees, as it enhances job opportunities for women, boosts productivity and profits and ensures safe and healthy growth of children, a general apathy seems to have been prevalent among employers to providing childcare facilities amidst a worrying disregard of the authorities concerned for the enforcement of the legal provisions. Even where companies provide child care, they do it as a compliance requirement and do not arrange for the required facilities. A lack of transport facilities, long and hazardous commuting to work and unfavourable opening hours also make working mothers not choose factory-based child care.
The government, in such a situation, must take effective steps and put in place a comprehensive mechanism to ensure that all companies, taking into account the women work force, provide proper childcare facilities. Employers must also understand that factory-based childcare is not a mere compliance issue, it, rather, benefits families, businesses and the economy.
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