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Understanding the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961

The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, is an Act to regulate the employment of women in certain establishments for certain periods before and after childbirth and to provide for maternity and other related benefits. Let's elaborate on the salient features of this Act and its benefits for the working women in India.

Provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act

Eligibility for Maternity Benefit

A woman is eligible for maternity benefit if she has worked in an establishment for a minimum period of 80 days in the twelve months immediately preceding the date of her expected delivery.

Duration of Maternity Benefit

The Act provides maternity benefits for a total period of 26 weeks. This includes up to 8 weeks before the expected date of delivery and the remaining period post-childbirth. However, in the case of a woman having two or more surviving children, the duration of paid maternity leave is 12 weeks (6 weeks before and 6 weeks after delivery).

Additional Maternity Benefit for Miscarriage or Medical Termination of Pregnancy

The Act provides for a paid leave of 6 weeks in case of miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy. The leave is applicable from the date of miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy.

Leave for Illness Arising Out of Pregnancy

If a woman suffers an illness arising out of pregnancy, delivery, premature birth of child, miscarriage, medical termination of pregnancy, or a tubectomy operation, she is entitled to an additional one month's leave with wages at the rate of maternity benefit.

Nursing Breaks

Until the child reaches the age of 15 months, every woman returning to work post-delivery is allowed two breaks in her daily work schedule for nursing her child.

Landmark Case Laws Related to the Maternity Benefit Act

Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Female Workers (Muster Roll) and Another (2000)

In this landmark judgement, the Supreme Court extended the benefits of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 to casual and contractual female employees, emphasizing the social justice aspect of the Constitution.

Neera Mathur v. Life Insurance Corporation of India (1992)

In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that requiring a declaration about general health and pregnancy status from a woman at the time of employment is a clear case of gender discrimination, which is against the constitutional principle of gender equality.

Amended Maternity Benefit Act, 2017

The Act was amended in 2017 to enhance the maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for two surviving children. This places India third globally in terms of the length of maternity leave after Canada and Norway.


The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, is a significant legislation aimed at safeguarding the rights of working women in India during pregnancy and post-childbirth. It not only ensures economic security during this period but also encourages healthy motherhood and child development. With the increased duration of maternity leave in the amended Act of 2017, India continues to make strides in advocating for women's rights in the workplace.

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