The government has announced that it would pay maternity allowance to rural mothers only if they fulfil the requirements it sets.

Mothers would be eligible for the allowance if they do not miss the routine antenatal check up and deliver in a hospital. Those who deliver abroad and at home are not eligible for the allowance.

The announcement is appreciated as well as critiqued. While many are able to see and understand the rationale behind the conditions, some are disappointed that the allowance categorises mothers.  Given the challenge of reducing maternal deaths and improving the health and lives of mother and children, the government’s decision to make mothers visit health centres for antenatal check ups and deliver in a hospital is good. The health ministry has been advocating on institutional delivery and regular check ups and the government is taking it a step further by offering to pay rural mothers to visit health care centres.

Despite the noble intent behind the announcement, it becomes imperative first to understand why some of our mothers choose to deliver at home or abroad.  It is even more necessary that we explain what a rural mother means. For besides being able to afford it, the quality of our health care services often pushes young mothers to deliver abroad.  And without understanding the reasons for those who deliver at home, it may not be fair to make them ineligible for the maternity allowance. These mothers may be the ones who need such allowance the most.

The government, challenged as it may be with resource constrains and the compelling need to keep a promise, must review the conditions it sets before implementing the decision. The government’s confidence in the health sector to save lives and provide quality service, while assuring, is for now not enough to regain the lost public confidence in the system. As former and practicing health workers, some of our cabinet ministers are well aware of the specialities and deficiencies in the health system. The people would like to see an improvement in the institution while programmes are rolled out to improve institutional delivery rate.

During the campaign period, the DNT had pledged to introduce allowances for women in rural areas during initial months of childbirth because rural women are also engaged in domestic and farm works. With mothers in public sector given paid maternity leave, the party had stated that it would not make sense to deny allowances to rural mothers.

It pledged to ensure the benefits are extended to all women who give birth so that it contributes to childcare and the mother’s health. Public debates during the campaign confused people more as some candidates cited the allowances at the current wage rate while others calculated it the revised wage rate the party has promised. Then, there were no conditions stated.

There are also no conditions set for mothers in public sector to avail paid maternity leave. The private sector has also not fully implemented six months of paid maternity leave and mothers working in this sector may not necessarily be rural women. It is said that a society could be judged by the health of its mothers and children and the government’s intent to persuade rural mothers to access and avail health care services is not questioned. But what would happen to those who may get left out of healthcare service and other benefits because of the government’s initiative?