A total of 30 regions in China have extended paid maternity leave to up to one year, one of the supportive measures introduced after the country changed its family planning policy to allow all couples to have a second child in 2016.
Maternity leave in most provinces and municipalities has been extended to around 158 days, with the longest leave on offer being one year in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. New mothers in Northwest China's Gansu Province and Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province are entitled to 180 days paid time off work, while in Shanghai, Tianjin and East China's Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces leave has been increased to 128 days, according to The Beijing News.
The extensions were made based on the amended Law on Population and Family Planning which was approved in 2016. All women who give birth are guaranteed up to three months of additional maternity leave in addition to the 98 days originally mandated, and their spouses can enjoy paid paternity leave of 15 days, according to the revised law.
Experts believe that the popular extensions should also create leeway for both female employees and their companies as longer leave may adversely affect women's career development and increase the financial burden on enterprises.
Equal paid leave
The Tibet Health and Family Planning Commission published a notice on the two-child policy on July 5, which said that women with a Tibet household registration, or hukou, who work for organizations, enterprises and public institutions are entitled to have one year of paid maternity leave with each child to which they give birth. Their spouses can enjoy 30 days of paternity leave, according to the website of the commission.
Family planning policies are more relaxed in Tibet as they mostly apply to ethnic Han. Ethnic Tibetans are not restricted by the policies.
Tibet has a population of 3 million, according to a 2010 census, with at least 90 percent of residents being ethnic Tibetans, while the number of ethnic Hans is 245,000, accounting for eight percent, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Guan Xinping, an expert on social policy at Nankai University in Tianjin, told the Global Times that maternity leave is particularly long in Tibet partially due to the region's harsh climate and natural conditions.
The extensions to maternity leave are likely to be welcomed by a majority of netizens, as a survey conducted by China Youth Daily in 2016 showed that 89 percent of the 2,966 respondents wanted an extension to maternity leave, and 40 percent of them hoped it would be extended to six months.
"To be more precise, the additional maternity leave is for infant care, as women's health is usually restored after the 98 mandated days," Guan said.
As mother and father should take on the both responsibility for taking care of infants, women and their partners should be entitled to the same amount of leave, according to Guan.
Many netizens echoed Guan calling for an increase of the paternity leave which in most places is about 15 to 30 days.
Helping or harming
Chinese couples give birth to their first children at an average age of 25 to 27 and they tend to wait a few years until giving birth to their second child which may cause health risks to both newborn and the mother, said Yuan Xin, a demographer from Tianjin-based Nankai University, the People's Daily reported.
Yuan said that extending maternity leave is beneficial to the health of mothers and newborns.
However, Liang Zhongtang, a research fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, argued that the leave extension may actually harm women's interests.
"Enterprises may prefer to hire men or women who already have children to reduce their payroll, and women may find hard to get promoted if they take months of paid leave," Liang told the Global Times.
The Chinese media has reported on cases of women who were dismissed or demoted after taking maternity leave.
To relieve the burden on companies, Guan suggested that the authorities allow companies to offer partially paid maternity leave and encourage women to freely adjust the length of their leave.
Meanwhile, experts said that the extension, a supportive measure for the revised family planning policy, has a limited role in encouraging couples to have a second child.
"It's not like you don't need to take care of your babies after the six months or one year of maternity leave, and regulators should first abolish the 'social maintenance fees,' the system used to fine people for violating the family planning policy, in order to encourage more births," Liang said.