HAVANA – Cuban law now protects mothers and fathers who want to share child-rearing after the breast-feeding period, without having to worry about irate bosses.

Experience shows it is preferable that babies be cared for at home in the first year of life, and later at childcare centers, until they are ready for kindergarten.

For that reason there is a “postnatal license” in Cuba by which a mother – and a father – can either opt to return to work or remain at home at 60 percent of salary until the baby is 1-year-old.

More than overturning taboos and machismo barriers, this new law reflects the present socioeconomic reality in Cuba, where women are 44 percent of the work force in the state-civil sector and more than 66 percent of the technical and professional work force.

Although somewhat controversial, the recent State Council Law No. 234 is the legal instrument of the Family Code marriage contract: “to attend, care for, protect, educate, help, give profound affection to, and prepare for life” the fruit of their love. This responsibility is a right and a duty, recognized equally for adoptive parents.

Law No. 234 also covers up to a six-month absence from work, without reprisal, for either parent should one of their children under 16 years of age become ill. The revolutionary part of the law is that the father can take over the major caretaking role once the mother’s presence is no longer indispensable.

Should a mother die within the 12-week postnatal period, that full-pay right reverts to the working father, or to whichever working maternal or paternal relative he delegates to feed and care for the child during the first year of life. The extension of this to other relatives is recognition of the fundamental role of the family in society and facilitates better integration of its members in helping working parents.

Without a doubt these changes will have positive repercussions in an aging society showing increased longevity and diminution of infant mortality rates.

It is very rare today in Cuba to see families with several children. Many couples have only one child, or none, or delay childbearing until the future in order to dedicate themselves completely to the baby.

This is especially true of women of childbearing age who begin working as soon as they finish their studies: athletes, teachers, doctors, scientists, all who feel they have a limited time to demonstrate their ability before becoming mothers.

In 1960, soon after the victory of the Cuban revolution, diverse women’s organizations fused into a unique organization – the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) – to develop policies and programs to achieve the full exercise of woman’s equality in all social milieus. It was an enormous task.

Cuban women arrived at the revolutionary victory in 1959 as 55 percent of the illiterates of the country and with poor (17 percent) incorporation in the work force, with much of their hardworking number in domestic service or as bar waitresses. These women could only hope to live 63.8 years. Sixty of each thousand of their children died before reaching one year of age.

Since then, the advancements of Cuban women under socialism are unquestionable. Today, in addition to their higher participation in the labor force, women constitute 36 percent of the members of parliament, 62 percent of university graduates, and more than 33 percent of managers.

Women in Cuba enjoy recognized sexual and reproductive rights, universal and free health care and education systems, special programs for maternity and child protection, programs to promote their quality of life, as well as cultural and social support. Their life expectancy is 76.8 years and infant mortality is six per thousand live births.

The FMC has 3.8 million affiliated women organized into 76,000 grassroots organizations all over the country. The only requirements for membership are being female and older than 14 years of age.

– Prensa Latina