PROVISION OF CRÈCHES IN COURTS AND OTHER LEGAL / JUDICIAL PLACES : AN OPEN REPRESENTATION
When a child is born, both the parents are filled with untold joy! The joy also brings into its fold, a re-orientation of the life styles hitherto led by the new parents who brace themselves for taking up one of the most important responsibilities of their lives, viz., raising of their child. In a lot of cases the mother prefers to put her career on hold and her professional life suddenly gets suspended for couple of years, however in a lot of cases, it may cease altogether.
But what if the mother is a practicing lawyer ?
A woman lawyer recently shared her heart rendering daily schedule as a mother. When she comes to the court in the morning, she brings along, her infant daughter and her domestic help with her, she leaves for the court and baby waits outside in the car, with the air conditioning on. During her breaks from one court hearing to another, she constantly visits the baby to breast feed her and is under a pressure to leave early. Her car has become her baby’s crèche. This might be a story for many other women lawyers.
When we talk about Law as a profession, that too specially for women, the scenario seems quite daunting. A woman lawyer, who is the bearer of legal rights of others, seems to suffer an unequal battle herself, as our legal and judicial systems do not yet have any provisions for “Day Care Centers” or any other means of “Child Care”, thus lacking in providing an enabling environment to the women lawyers, who are dedicated to this profession.
In 1921 Allahabad high court paved the way for enrolment of Cornelia Sorabji as the first woman lawyer and from then on started the challenge of managing work and home for the women lawyers in India, especially given that the legal profession is the one of the most demanding professions in terms of time and inputs.
A look at the statistics would show that while women and men have been graduating from top law schools at roughly equal rates for the past decade, few women can be seen in senior legal positions: Of the 397 lawyers designated as “senior advocates” in the Supreme Court since 1962, only five are women.
In addition, only 55 of the 241 advocates-on-record are women, according to the report released by Rainmaker, a research organization focused on the legal profession. The assumption that the workplace is a gender neutral place is flawed. While women face family responsibilities which may affect the career advancement, the real barrier is the absence of provisions at the workplace that address the needs and requirements of working mothers and fathers. Lack of crèche facilities, rigid work hours, and barriers to transitioning back into work after the birth of a child are few of the reasons behind the high attrition rate of women lawyers with children.
Under various labour laws, Provision for crèches exists under the following sections:
- Section 48 of the Factories Act, 1948.
- Section 44 of the Inter State Migrant Workmen (RECS) Act, 1979.
- Section 12 of the Plantations Labour Act, 1951.
- Section 14 of the Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966.
- Section 35 of the Building and other Constructions (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996.
The aforesaid provisions relate to only such a work places with sizable women workers (20-30) and the same mandate such workplaces to have a room dedicated to child care i.e. a Crèche. Such rooms/crèches are required to be equipped with adequate accommodation, sufficiently lighted and ventilated and maintained under clean and sanitary conditions, under the charge of women trained to take care of children and infants etc.
An advocate is the officer of the court, who helps the courts in the administration of such laws, but the irony is that there is no such provision for them. It is very difficult for women in litigation because they don’t have the same formal support structure that is legally required to be extended by employers at a company. Sabbatical has a negative impact on a woman’s career and sometimes it means end of the career. Post maternity both clients and colleagues don’t take a woman lawyer as a serious lawyer, in fact a woman stops taking oneself seriously. She is just busy trying to juggle between the two whole time pursuits. The legal profession needs extreme physical labour as well as mental alertness for long durations of time. Post pregnancy, a lot of practicing women lawyers either quit or join companies or law firms where they can limit the number of working hours. Some women opt for flexible working hours which results in their earnings being cut to size, while others quit the profession. Above all, they lose the passion which they once lived for, that is advocacy.
Not only the government but even the corporate sector is rising to this basic need. Considering the number of women joining the workforce every year, a crèche at the workplace has become as important as basic infrastructure like computers and telephones, a fact several companies like HSBC, Hindustan Unilever (HUL), Godrej and L’Oreal India have acknowledged.
While HSBC’s crèche at its Malad office in Mumbai started in December 2012, HUL’s day care centre at its Andheri campus in Mumbai has around 60 children and can be availed by both male and female employees. The Little Company, which runs a crèche within the Godrej compound, will set up an exclusive crèche for Godrej employees at its corporate office in Vikhroli, which will accommodate 40 children. L’Oreal India recently inaugurated a crèche at its corporate office. It can accommodate 12 children in the ages of six months to four years and has one caregiver on average for every two infants and one for every five toddlers.
Not only do these crèches offer basic facilities for children, they also offer playschool integrated programs, nap rooms, kitchen and meal rooms, reading corners, etc. Features like non-skid flooring, finger guards at doors and rounded furniture reassure parents. At L’Oreal, over 42% of managers are women and almost all brands are headed by women. Facilities like day care for children make it easier for them to reconcile career and family life.
Most parents believe that the environment in a crèche where children of different age groups bond and communicate with each other, is congenial for a child’s upbringing. It helps employees to focus on work without being worried about their little ones. This has positively affected performance and satisfaction with respect to growth of a child, as measured through various internal surveys.
However, most mothers see value in paying for a crèche which takes care of their children and helps them retain their jobs as well. It’s better for an office to have a crèche within the campus than one far away. The biggest advantage of having a crèche in the same compound is that a mother can always reach out to the child within few minutes in case of an emergency. Support staff at home is no solution because a child needs the constant care and attention of a mother.
It is now a basic need for a lawyer mother to be able to take her child to the court where there could be a good play area for her child in the court premises. She wishes that her child could play in safe hands while the mom is arguing in the court. If this happens both male and female lawyers will be benefitted. The male lawyers can also take their kids along in court while their better halves are busy in their conferences and meetings.
A child is the most important facet for both the parents, men as well as women. Let us give them what they deserve while enabling the mothers to hold their professions in both hands, with some mental comfort.
We, hereby place this humble request before all the legal and judicial bodies : –
- To provide the crèche facilities in the court premises for advocates;
- To give directions to the law firms and other managements to start the crèche facility or associate with the closest crèches to make the environment of the legal profession more gender balanced.
Ms. Kaadambari Puri
Mr. Kaviraj Singh