KATHMANDU NEPAL – “I am counting my fingers waiting for the next month,” says Shanti Rai to her co-workers before going back to work packing groceries for the customers at a local supermarket in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.
Rai is anticipating the opportunity to visit her 10-month-old son.
“I will be visiting him in a month,” Rai says with a smile on her face.
Rai and her husband live in Kathmandu. But their son lives with his paternal grandparents in Jhapa, a district 600 kilometers away. Her husband has a full-time job, and once Rai’s 60-day maternity leave ended after her son’s birth, she had to go back to work too at Bhatbhateni Supermarket and Departmental Store, the largest supermarket chain in Nepal.
“It is not easy for me to live apart from my newborn son,” Rai says with tears in her eyes.
Rai, who is in her mid-20s, says she initially tried running back and forth from her office to her home to breast-feed her baby during her lunch hours. But she says that this arrangement didn’t allow her to care properly for her son or to perform in the workplace. Her salary was also deducted every time she was late from feeding her child. She says she had no other choice but to send him to his grandparents.
“It was already difficult for us with our meager earnings, and with my salary deducted, it was getting difficult to survive,” Rai says dejectedly.
She also worries about her son’s health because she can’t breast-feed him, which she says is crucial to his nutrition. Rai also says that her breasts hurt every day because the milk is not being removed. The leaking milk also stains her clothes, which she says humiliates her and also serves as a reminder of her son, who can’t be with his mother.
She says she is excited to see him but sad the visit can’t be longer.
“I will be staying only for a week or two,” she says. “I am not sure how will I bring myself to leave him back in village.”
Rai says she feels guilty for not being with her child but that she is working in order to secure his future.
“I have to earn now so as to be able to educate my child in future,” she says.
Still, she says she feels the emotional weight of it.
Mothers who work full-time in Nepal say they can’t care for their children, which poses a particular problem when it comes to breast-feeding. Experts say breast-feeding promotes nutritional and emotional benefits for mother and baby. The government here has increased maternity leave, but mothers say it is not enough. New centers where mothers can feed their infants have emerged throughout the country, but many say they are expensive and uncommon.
The female employment rate in Nepal is 78.5 percent, according to the Nepal Labor Force Survey, published in 2008 by the Central Bureau of Statistics. There are 6,259,000 working women over the age of 15 in Nepal, with 90 percent