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Mothers Across Globe Feel Guilty Of Leaving Their Babies And Resuming Work

Essack says she is "very nervous" about going back to work, but her baby, Salma, will be looked after by her mother and mother-in-law for free.

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WORKING MOTHERS
Ferzanah Essack, 36, a software developer, and her husband Hassan Essack, 37, a software developer, pose for a portrait with their 4-month-old baby Salma on the morning of Ferzanah's first day back to work, in Cape Town, South Africa, Feb. 18, 2019. VOA

Many new mothers worldwide express anxiety and guilt about leaving their babies to return to work, and some worry their nations’ maternity policies reflect societies that value productivity over raising children.

In a series of interviews for Reuters ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, mothers from the United States to Uruguay to South Africa to Singapore told of their concerns about stopping work to give birth and look after their newborns.

An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report in 2016 found that among OECD countries, mothers are on average entitled to 18 weeks of paid maternity leave around childbirth.

But the range is vast. While some countries — such as Britain and Russia — offer many months or even several years of maternity leave, the United States is the only country to offer no statutory entitlement to paid leave on a national basis.

FILE - Blanca Eschbach, 32, poses for a portrait with her daughter Olivia on her first day back at work after a 10-week maternity leave in San Antonio, Texas, March 4, 2019.
Blanca Eschbach, 32, poses for a portrait with her daughter Olivia on her first day back at work after a 10-week maternity leave in San Antonio, Texas, March 4, 2019. VOA
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Blanca Eschbach, a new mother in San Antonio, Texas, returned to work this week after taking 10 weeks off to have her baby. “I think as a society we value productivity above family life,” she said. “You almost feel rushed to get back to work.”

Eschbach said she’d like longer to be at home with her child — ideally 16 weeks — but her family can’t afford it.

Tatiana Barcellos, 37, a civil servant for the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Brazil, also told Reuters she was “anxious and worried” about going back to work, and concerned that “my absence causes stress to my baby.”

Tatiana Barcellos, 37, a civil servant for the Federal Prosecutor's Office, her eight-month-old daughter Alice, and her husband Marcelo Valenca, 39, a teacher at a navy school, pose for a photograph on the day Tatiana went back to work, at their home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jan. 28, 2019.
Tatiana Barcellos, 37, a civil servant for the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, her eight-month-old daughter Alice, and her husband Marcelo Valenca, 39, a teacher at a navy school, pose for a photograph on the day Tatiana went back to work, at their home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

In the Netherlands, Lucie Sol, a 32-year-old social worker and mother to baby Lena Amelie, said returning to work “comes with a lot of guilt.”

“I feel bad leaving her behind,” she told Reuters. “She’s only five and a half months old, so I want to keep her close.”

Sol took an extra three months off, extending her leave to 27 weeks in total. Her boyfriend, Rudie Jonkmans, got two days of official paternity leave and added three extra weeks of holiday time to be with his family. Paternity leave in the Netherlands has since been extended to a maximum of five days.

FILE - Lucie Sol, 32, a social worker, her boyfriend, Rudie Jonkmans, 34, a cook, and their 22-week-old baby Lena Amelie pose for a photograph inside their house on the first day Lucie went back to work, in Purmerend, the Netherlands, Feb. 18, 2019.
Lucie Sol, 32, a social worker, her boyfriend, Rudie Jonkmans, 34, a cook, and their 22-week-old baby Lena Amelie pose for a photograph inside their house on the first day Lucie went back to work, in Purmerend, the Netherlands, Feb. 18, 2019. VOA

In Belarus, however, things are a little different for 28-year-old Alesia Rutsevich, who is returning to work as an ophthalmologist after having her son three years ago.

Under statutory maternity leave in Belarus, mothers are paid their average monthly income for 70 days before birth and 56 days afterward. Child care leave can be taken for up to three years after the birth by any working relative or child’s guardian. Recipients are paid a fixed sum according to the number of children in the family.

FILE - Alesia Rutsevich, 28, an ophthalmologist, her husband Pyotr, 28, a programmer, and their son Daniil, 3, pose for a photograph at their house in the week Alesia went back to work, in Minsk, Belarus, Feb. 23, 2019.
Alesia Rutsevich, 28, an ophthalmologist, her husband Pyotr, 28, a programmer, and their son Daniil, 3, pose for a photograph at their house in the week Alesia went back to work, in Minsk, Belarus, Feb. 23, 2019. VOA

Rutsevich says she feels happy to have had significant time with her baby, and says her country’s policy is good.

“The duration of the child care leave is quite optimal,” she said. “I believe that by three years the child is growing up, and his health is improving, and his behavior.”

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Ferzanah Essack, a 36-year-old mother and software developer in South Africa, says the law there allows for four months maternity leave — although employers are not obliged to pay employees during this time — and 10 days paternity leave.

Essack says she is “very nervous” about going back to work, but her baby, Salma, will be looked after by her mother and mother-in-law for free.

“We pay [for child care] in love and kisses,” she said. “With lots of love, because it’s the grannies.” (VOA)

Next Story

Children Paying the Price in Yemen’s War

Violence is just one of the many reasons the war in Yemen has crippled the country's ability to educate children

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Children, Yemen's War
Aid organizations have called the humanitarian crisis in Yemen the worst in the world, and a "war on children." Pictured in Sanaa, Yemen, April 20, 2019. VOA

When the blast went off in early April, shrapnel hit homes and schools all over the quiet residential neighborhood of the Yemeni capital.

Windows shattered and the 2,000 girls in a nearby school tried to evacuate at once, many racing down the stairs and some dying in the stampede.

Safia Al-Wesabi, a 10-year-old student of the Al-Ra’ai School, made it out safely, but she couldn’t find her older, teen-aged sister outside. “I was sobbing,” she said. “I thought she was trampled to death.”

​More than 15 children were killed and 100 other people injured that day, but violence is just one of the many reasons the war in Yemen has crippled the country’s ability to educate children, and often even keep them alive. As Yemen’s conflict goes into a fifth year, aid organizations are calling it a “war on children.”

Children, Yemen's War
Safia Al-Wesabi, a 10-year-old student of the Al Ra’ai School, survived a blast that killed 15 children and injured 100 children and adults in Sanaa, Yemen in early April, pictured on April 20, 2019. VOA

“We are at a tipping point,” said Henrietta Fore, the executive director of UNICEF in a recent speech. “If the war continues any longer, the country may move past the point of no return. … How long will we continue allowing Yemen to slide into oblivion?”

Missing school and health care

As the children fled flying glass and shrapnel at their school last month, Hamid Al Wesabi, Safia’s father, was in his home located on a hill nearby. His house shook and the windows broke. He ran to the school to find his daughters. “We didn’t know what was happening,” he said.

Later that day, both the girls and their father escaped the chaos and reunited at home.

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A few weeks later, the school was open again for final exams and Wesabi’s daughters went back. Many others chose not to return.

At least one in five schools is no longer in use in Yemen, mostly because they were destroyed by violence or are now being used as emergency shelters or military bases.

​Hospitals also have shut down at alarming rates and roughly half of Yemeni children under age 5 have been permanently injured by malnutrition. Every 10 minutes a child in Yemen dies from a preventable cause, according to a recent UNICEF report.

Teachers’ salaries are often not being paid, forcing many to look for other jobs. Sometimes children are simply too afraid to go to school, the report says.

Children, Yemen's War
Hamid Al Wesabi and Safia are pictured by their home after a blast nearby shook the house and broke the windows in Sanaa, Yemen, April 20, 2019. VOA

​As a result, Yemeni children are increasingly recruited to fight in militias, work at other adult jobs or married off at young ages. “If not in school, children would become an illiterate and unskilled parent and increasing the likelihood of passing on poverty to the next generation,” it reads.

Safia took her exams but her text books were lost in the blast, so she could not prepare.

Other children were not so lucky. Sitting next to Safia at a wooden desk, 8-year-old Bayan appeared absent-minded when asked about her older sister, who was killed in the crush of girls trying to escape. An adult asked if she missed her sister.

“Yes,” she managed to say quietly.

Humanitarian crisis deepens

The war in Yemen is between the Houthis, who currently hold the north, including the capital Sanaa, and forces loyal to the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was forced from the capital in 2015 and is recognized as the Yemeni president by the United Nations.

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These are hardly the only players in this war, which has left many world powers mired in proxy battles. Iran is known to support the Houthis, whose longest-held territories are near the border with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s archenemy.

Saudi Arabia and its allies have been launching airstrikes targeting the Houthis — often in locations populated by civilians — for four years now with support from Western powers like the United States and Britain. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, many of them civilians, including children.

Children, Yemen's War
Eight-year-old Bayan, right, lost her older sister when 2,000 girls tried to evacuate their school at the same time, in Sanaa, Yemen, pictured April 20, 2019. VOA

Already the Arab world’s poorest country, this battle has turned Yemen into what many call the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with the threat of widespread famine now looming as peace talks continue to be derailed. Last week, a cease-fire in a key port city broke down, exacerbating the threat as food and aid remained stalled outside the country by the war.

It is not clear as to who or what caused the blast that hit the school last month, with pro-Saudi news reporting an airstrike, and later deleting the report, according to Human Rights Watch.The organization says Houthi authorities were storing dangerous material in a civilian neighborhood.

Children, Yemen's War
After the blast, teachers said they felt obligated to return to school despite their fears, to encourage children to do the same, in Sanaa, Yemen, April 20, 2019. VOA

Besides violence, hunger, and disease, children in Yemen are also deeply threatened by the psychological trauma they are experiencing, according to Fathia al-Kuhlani, the principal of the Al Ra’ai School in Sanaa.

“After trauma, if students don’t go back to school, anxiety can lead to depression,” she said. “It was hard even for us to enter the school the day after the strike, but we needed to come to encourage the students to come back.” (VOA)