Which countries offer miscarriage leave for both parents?

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Written by Asaël Häzaq on 19 June, 2024
Voices around the world are urging governments to better address the suffering of parents experiencing a miscarriage. Some doctors prefer the term "involuntary pregnancy loss" over "miscarriage." Belgium recently made headlines with its reform, but many countries are still far from adopting similar measures. What should expats know if they find themselves in such a situation abroad?

Belgium: A pioneer in Europe with miscarriage leave for both parents

On Friday, May 3, the Belgian Council of Ministers introduced "special leave," effective from July 1. This measure grants couples two days of leave in the event of a miscarriage, provided it occurs before 24 weeks and has been previously reported to the employer.

This initiative marks a first in Europe. Since the announcement, European and international media have highlighted the proposals from countries where such a measure does not yet exist. While women's rights are sometimes recognized, fathers' rights often are not.

Critics note that the Belgian leave is limited to federal employees. Petra De Sutter, Minister of Public Service, acknowledges the law's symbolic nature due to its short duration (two days). Nevertheless, she hopes the announcement will reignite international debate and aims to extend the measure to the private sector. The Federation of Belgian Enterprises opposes any extension of the leave.

Other countries offering miscarriage leave

India has been a pioneer in this area. The 1961 Maternity Benefit Act grants six weeks of paid leave in the event of a miscarriage, starting from the day of the miscarriage, provided the woman presents proof. Women suffering illness due to miscarriage receive up to one month of paid leave, with relevant medical proof required.

Unlike Belgium, India does not impose a time limit after which leave is unavailable, but the leave is not extended to men. Other countries also offer paid miscarriage leave. In Mauritius, women are eligible for three weeks of paid leave. The duration varies from two to four weeks in Honduras and Colombia, extending to a month and a half in South Africa, Indonesia, and Costa Rica. The Philippines grants one month of paid leave. In Panama and Nicaragua, the leave duration is determined by medical advice.

In Taiwan, the length of leave depends on when the miscarriage occurs: four weeks if after three months of pregnancy, one week during the second or third month, and five days if less than a month into the pregnancy. In Canada, miscarriage leave policies vary by province.

Countries extending miscarriage leave to partners

By extending miscarriage leave to partners, Belgium aligns with New Zealand. In 2021, New Zealand introduced three days of paid leave for miscarriage, available to both the pregnant woman and her partner, including in cases of adoption or surrogacy. That same year, Australia implemented five days of paid leave for miscarriage, also available to partners.

The UK offers 56 days of leave for partners, with a "statutory paternity pay" for stillbirths after 24 weeks. In these cases, women receive 56 weeks of maternity leave. Miscarriages before 24 weeks result in "pregnancy-related illness" leave, which does not count against other sick leaves.

Denmark grants 14 weeks of leave for women and two weeks for partners in the case of stillbirth after 21 weeks of pregnancy.

Miscarriage leave: Between principle and practice

India's progressive law is not always implemented effectively. Many companies reinterpret the law, reducing the six-month paid leave to one week or simply eliminating it. Although legally obliged, companies often pressure employees to forgo their leave through internal pressures and threats of demotion. This situation is even more challenging for women in precarious jobs, who often do not receive any leave for miscarriage, resulting in unpaid absences.

Similar issues have been reported in other countries. In the UK, some companies publicly defend the right to miscarriage leave, though it is not always recognized, unlike stillbirth leave. The US, Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany also recognize stillbirth leave more readily. In January 2024, France introduced sick leave without a waiting period for pregnant women experiencing involuntary pregnancy loss, but this does not extend to partners.

Broadening maternity protection

Advocates and doctors calling for miscarriage leave argue for a broader definition of maternity protection, including women who experience miscarriage. The topic remains taboo despite an estimated 23 million women worldwide facing miscarriage each year. For them, it is a real loss that should be acknowledged as such.

Doctors support this view, advocating for extended leave to include partners, recognizing their suffering, and aiding their recovery. Miscarriage can lead to severe mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Financial implications remain a concern, with budget cuts causing hesitation among governments. However, advocates hope Belgium's announcement will revive the debate.