Young dads speak up about why they need paternity leave

Terence Tang
A ‘dead’ Chinese baby boy was saved from being creamated when he started crying at the funeral parlour. ― AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, June 16 — The news that Putrajaya is mulling three days’ paternity leave for fathers working in the private sector has been received positively by some fathers in Klang Valley.

However, the young fathers polled by Malay Mail conceded that while three days are fine, they are still not enough in a society where more and more fathers are becoming more hands-on with their newborn and who do not leave the responsibility solely to mothers.

Amir Hassan, a 34-year-old father of two daughters, said fathers also have an important role in child rearing and this could help reduce the motherhood burden that many women still face.

“I don’t believe three days is enough. It’s a start, but we need to do better in the future,” said Amir, with one daughter already in primary school, a newborn less than a year old.

“Three days aren’t enough because there’s a lot of things that need to be done, new parents need time to transition into this new stage.

According to Amir, who is currently taking a break from working in financial services, said during the early months of his children’s birth, he like many other fathers personally minded the children when their partners were still in the traditionally-mandated confinement period.

Amir and other fathers polled said these daily routines include giving the children their bath, changing their diapers and clothes, and taking care of household chores.

He added that he has always assumed that the three days of paternity leave was legally mandatory, and expressed surprise that it was provided by the good grace of employers.

Meanwhile, Sunny Tan, another 34-year-old father of two daughters aged six and four, suggested that in an ideal world, paternity leave could be extended even up to three months, with fathers utilising the leave as several one-month breaks within the first six months of their children being born.

For instance, a father can choose to take one month off during the child’s first month, third month and fifth month of life. This will provide couples with flexibility when they plan their childcare routine, the banking executive added.

“Three months would really be a progressive way of looking at the dynamics of care for the newborn,” said Sunny.

Sunny also echoed the other fathers polled that they can take full responsibility for childcare, instead of following the archaic view where parenting is widely seen as the mothers’ duty.

“But it depends on the couple. It’s not wrong if the wife takes full care of the kids while the husband focuses on work and other matters. It should also not be wrong if the roles are reversed,” Sunny explained.

Ruban Anbalagan, a 33-year-old father of a daughter aged five, said fathers tend to have bigger need for more paternity leave days when they do not have immediate or close social support system.

“I don’t think three days is sufficient at all. Let’s face it. As a father who do not rely on in-laws or others, it is my duty to look after my wife and kid. I will have to do the running around,” the corporate communications manager said, citing the purchase of confinement items as one of his duties during the first few days after birth.

“What if your kid has jaundice? Or experience some kind of complications that require a stay in the hospital longer than three days?” he asked.

Several other fathers polled by Malay Mail also noted the importance for a father to be around to help ferry the mother and child to medical appointments in the early days.

This schedule may be more hectic if the child suffers from irregularities such as jaundice, where the child would require daily medical appointments for around two weeks after birth, they said.

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) is spearheading a campaign for seven days of paternity leave, same as the ones in the public sector.

“Three days of paternity leave is insufficient, as three days would likely be over by the time a couple leaves the hospital after childbirth,” said its advocacy and communications officer, Tan Heang-Lee.

“Fathers need more time to care for a newborn and to adjust to the monumental life changes that come with being a father. For a start, fathers in the private sector should get at least seven days of paternity leave, which is what fathers in the public sector currently enjoy.”

Introducing paternity leave will also send the message that caregiving is a shared responsibility, and such changes in social norms would help women to stay in the workforce, Tan added.

Tan referred to a 2018 Khazanah Research Institute report, which showed that 58 per cent of women who were not in the workforce cited “housework or family responsibilities” as the reason for not seeking work, compared to only 3 per cent of men.

She also cited a WAO survey which showed that 30 per cent of women will delay their pregnancy plans because they fear losing their job or promotion due to pregnancy discrimination.

“Thus, WAO also welcomes the Ministry of Human Resources’ proposal to introduce protection against discrimination due to pregnancy, marital status, and gender,” she added.

The Human Resources Ministry has proposed introducing three days’ paternity leave for fathers working in the private sector, to be funded by employers.

However, the proposal was panned by the Malaysian Employers Federation, who urged the government to have the Social Security Organisation (Socso) or the Employment Insurance System (EIS) instead to fund it.

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