Current Situation of Maternity Insurance Legislation and Its Implementation in China

By Liu Cuixiao **, translated by Bi Xiaoqing

In an industrialized society, women have increased opportunities to participate in economic and social activities and become the bearers of the dual task of production of social wealth and human self-reproduction. As a result, women's reproductive behavior is not only an individual behavior, but also a social behavior. The state should establish a maternity insurance system to provide women with material assistance during the pregnancy, child-birth and nursing periods so as to lessen their economic burden and alleviate their mental stress resulting from the worry about losing their job during these periods of time, thereby achieving the objective of safeguarding the health of the mother and the child.

From the above we can see that maternity insurance system has the following characteristics: first, maternity insurance benefit is a right given to women by the state through legislation; second, the right to maternity security is a right that can be enjoyed only by women during pregnancy, childbirth and nursing periods; third, the main content of the right to maternity security is the provision by the state of material assistance or financial assistance. Also the state has provided that an employer may not arbitrarily dismiss a woman who is in pregnancy, childbirth or nursing period; and fourth, the purpose of implementing the maternity insurance system is to reduced childbearing women's economic burden and mental stress so that they can give birth to and raise healthy children. This system is indispensable to the protection of women's social rights.

I. Current Situation of Legislation on Maternity Insurance in China

The maternity insurance system in China was established in February 1951 with the promulgation of the Regulations on Labor Insurance, which contain provisions on maternity benefits of female enterprise employees. The Instructions on the Implementation of the System of Public Medical Care for Staff Members of the People's Governments at Various Levels, Political Parties, Mass Organizations and Public Institutions Attached to Them, promulgated by the then Government Administration Council in 1952, and the Notice Concerning the Provisions on the Maternity Leave of Female Staff Members, promulgated by the State Council on April 26, 1955, both contain provisions on maternity insurance of female employees of state organs and public institutions.

Female employees both of enterprises and of state organs and public institutions had a total of 56 days (8 weeks) of paid maternity leave. The difference between the two was that the maternity benefits of female employees of enterprises were paid by enterprises whereas those of state organs and public institutions were paid from state finance.

In early 1980s, with the reform of state-owned enterprises, it became difficult for enterprises with large proportion of female employees to compete on a fair basis with enterprises with small proportion of female employees. In order to reduce labor cost and make more profit, these enterprises began to adopt measures to reduce the number of female employees or the maternity benefits of child-bearing female employees.

In November 6, 1980, in order to uphold women's right to employment and enable them to fully enjoy their right to maternity insurance, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions and the All-China Women's Federation jointly submitted to the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China a Report on the Imposition of Long-Term Leaves on Pregnant and Nursing Female Employees by Some Enterprises in Liaoning Province. According to the Report, incomplete statistics showed that more than 30 enterprises in the cities of Shenyang, Dalian and Anshan had adopted the practice of giving pregnant and nursing female employees l-3 years of long maternity leaves during which period they were paid 70-75% of their normal wages. Some enterprises even forced nursing women to take long maternity leave by closing down day-care facilities or not giving nursing employees time to breast-feeding their babies. To change this situation, the Report recommended that the state reform the current enterprise maternity insurance system into a social maternity insurance system, with social pooling of the maternity insurance fund.

Since then, the reform of the maternity insurance system has been carried out in various parts of the country. For example, in 1988, the Government of Anshan City in Liaoning Province provided that maternity allowance shall be paid by both the enterprise to which the wife belongs and the enterprise to which the husband belongs, with each of them sharing 50% of the burden. If the husband is not employed by a local enterprise, then the enterprise to which the wife belongs shall bear the whole burden. For another example, the government of Zhuzhou City, Hunan Province provided that in 1988 that enterprises shall pay maternity insurance premium, which shall be calculated according to certain percentage of the total amount of the wages of all the employees. The fund shall be put under the overall administration of the labor departments. Child-bearing female employees shall draw their maternity allowance from local labor departments on a monthly basis by producing a certificate issued by their enterprises. However, because the practice differs in different localities, these maternity insurance systems were very difficult to administer and supervise. Especially the weak enforceability of local regulations made it difficult to collect the maternity insurance premium. Therefore it was necessary to establish a national maternity insurance system.

On July 21, 1988, the State Council promulgated the Provisions on Labor Protection of Female Employees, which establish a unified maternity insurance system for state organs, enterprises and public institutions, expand the coverage of maternity insurance from the original state-owned enterprises to all enterprises in the country, including state-owned enterprises, collectively-owned enterprises, foreign-invested enterprises, and rural enterprises, and increase the length of maternity leave from the original 56 days to 90 days (including 15 days before childbirth). Since its establishment, this maternity insurance system had played an important role in upholding the lawful rights and interests and safeguarding the basic living standard of female employees. However, since the cost of such maternity insurance was paid by the work units of female employees, it is not social insurance in genuine sense, but enterprise insurance.

In December 1992, the Ministry of Labor, based on the summarizing the experiences reforming and innovating the maternity insurance system, promulgated the Trial Measures for the Implementation of Maternity Insurance, establishing the maternity insurance mode of social pooling and overall planning of maternity insurance fund. On July 27, 1995, the State Council promulgated the Program for the Development of Chinese Women (1995-2000), which established the target of the maternity insurance system as "to basically realize the social pooling and overall planning of maternity insurance fund for female employees in cities throughout the country by the end of the 20th century." In 1995 and 1996, the Ministry of Labor issued the Notice on the Implementation of the Program for the Development of Chinese Women and the Notice on Issuing the Plan for the Implementation of the Program for the Development of Chinese Women (1995-2000), both contained specific requirements relating to the reform of the maternity insurance system. In 2004, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security issued the Guiding Opinion on Further Strengthening Maternity Insurance Work, requiring the governments of provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government to adopt measures for the implementation of the maternity insurance system in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Ministry and in light of local conditions, thereby establishing a basic maternity insurance system in the country. In December 1994, the Ministry issued the Trial Measures for Maternity Insurance of Enterprise Employees, which are still in force today. The main content of the Trial Measures include:

1. Scope of Application: the Trial Measures apply to all enterprises. Although the Trial Measures contain no provision on the maternity insurance for female employees of state organs and public institutions, according to the 1988 Provisions on Labor Protection of Female Employees, a unified protection system shall be implemented for female employees of state organs, enterprises and public institutions. Namely, a system of maternity insurance for female employees of state organs and public institutions shall be implemented through application by analogy of the Trial Measures.

2. Social Pooling of Insurance Fund. Article 3 of the Trial Measures provides that Maternity insurance shall be organized on the principle of locality, and funds shall be raised through a social pooling system. To be organized on the principle of locality means that the system shall be implemented with administrative divisions of cities and counties as organizing units. All enterprises within the jurisdiction of an administrative region shall participate in the maternity insurance of that region and pay contribute to the insurance fund according to a unified standard. The maternity insurance fund shall be raised in accordance with the principle of "determining collection by expenditure and striking a basic balance between income and expenditure". Enterprises shall pay up to 1% of their total payroll as maternity insurance contributions to the social insurance management agency, to be used to establish the maternity insurance fund. Individual employees do not pay maternity insurance contributions.

3. Maternity Insurance Benefit. After childbirth, female employees shall be entitled to maternity leave with pay in accordance with relevant laws and regulations. The maternity benefit during maternity leaves shall be calculated in accordance with the average monthly wages of employees in the enterprise of the previous year, and paid from the maternity insurance fund. The expenses of female employees for prenatal examination, delivery, operations, hospitalization and medications shall be paid from the maternity insurance fund. Medical expenses for diseases caused by childbirth shall be covered by the maternity insurance fund. After childbirth or abortion, a female employee herself or the enterprises she belongs to shall, , appear before the local social insurance management agency with relevant certificates to go through the requisite formalities for receiving childbirth subsidies and reimbursing medical expenses incurred as a result of childbirth. Since China's maternity insurance is established on the basis of family planning, women who give birth to a child in violation of the family planning policy are not entitled to maternity insurance benefit.

4. Supervision over and Management of the Maternity Insurance Fund. Maternity insurance fund is collected, paid and managed by social insurance management agencies subordinate to labor administrative departments. The fund is deposited in a special account opened by social insurance management agencies with a bank for such purpose.

Financial budgeting and final accounting systems are applied in the raising and use of maternity insurance fund. A social insurance management agency shall submit an annual report with respect to the fund and subject to supervision by the department of finance and auditing at the same level. Social insurance management agencies may draw from the maternity insurance fund no more than 2% management fee.

II. Situation of Implementation of the Maternity Insurance System in China

The scope of application of the Trial Measures for Maternity Insurance of Enterprise Employees has been expanding steadily since its implementation. Statistics show that, by June 2009, a total of 97.94 million people in 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government had been coverage by maternity insurance; in 2008, the maternity insurance fund had a total income of 11.37 billion yuan and a total expenditure of 7.15 billion yuan, with a current balance of 4.22 billion yuan and a cumulative balance of 16.82 billion yuan. A total of 1,400,527 persons, or 1.64% of the total number of people covered by insurance, had received maternity benefit in that year, with each receiving 8,268 yuan on average. Between 1994 and 2007, the rate hospital birth among pregnant women had increased from 76.4% to 95.8%, maternal mortality rate decreased from 44.1 per 100,000 to 25.2 per 100,000, and infant mortality rate decreased from 12.2‰ to 5.5‰ in urban areas.1

Nevertheless, many problems still exist in the implementation of the maternity insurance system in China:

1. The coverage of the system is too narrow. The current maternity insurance system covers only certain enterprises, state organs, public institutions and mass organizations. Statistics show that currently 214 million urban population and 200 million migrant population are not yet covered by maternity insurance.2 No independent maternity insurance system has been established in rural areas. Instead, a new rural cooperative medical care system was established to cover part of the costs of maternal heath care and hospital birth of rural women. Therefore, maternity security for rural women is still very weak and insufficient. Moreover, since the birth rate in rural areas is higher than in urban areas, the narrow coverage of maternity insurance has a negative impact on the right to maternity security of rural women, who are making huge contribution to the reproduction of the labor force in China.

2. The "Trial Measures" lack the necessary enforceability. As a result, female employees in many enterprises, especially in non-state-owned enterprises, and self-employed workers are not covered by maternity insurance. Some enterprises even forbid female employees to have a child during the term of labor contract in violation of their reproductive right.

3. There is no clear distinction between maternity expenses and medical expenses. The social pooling of the maternity insurance fund is determined according to the wages and childbirth medical expenses of child-bearing women. The overlapping between maternity insurance and health insurance has led to the overuse of childbirth health insurance fund. The "Trial Measures" provide that the medical expenses for the treatment of illnesses caused by childbirth shall be covered by maternity insurance fund. However, they do not include a detailed list of illnesses that can be covered by maternity insurance fund, leading to increased burden on health insurance fund.

4. The standard of maternity insurance benefit is too low. The "Trial Measures" only provide that maternity insurance benefit shall be paid from maternity insurance fund, but do not provide for the concrete standard of maternity insurance benefit. As a result, social insurance agencies have adopted the method of fixed amount payment of maternity benefit. Childbirth expenses exceeding the fixed amount have to be paid by the enterprises to which the childbearing female employees belong. If the enterprises refuse to cover the expenses, the lawful rights and interests of the childbearing employees will be infringed upon. Some enterprises in financial difficulties even refuse to pay maternity insurance contribution for their employees, resulting in the violation of their right to maternity security. In rural areas, because of the lack of awareness of maternity insurance and the shortage of medical resources, many women still have their children deliver by unprofessional midwives with backward traditional methods, which are unable to handle difficult labor, leading to much higher maternal mortality rate than in the urban areas.

5. The amount of outstanding balance of maternity insurance fund is too high. The Trial Measures provide that enterprises shall pay up to 1% of their total payroll as maternity insurance contribution. According to an investigation of 100 enterprises in 9 provinces carried out by All-China Federation of Trade Unions in 1996, 49% of the enterprises held that this percentage was too high and 80% of the enterprises held that the maternity insurance burden of enterprises was too heavy.3 The high contribution standard and low benefit standard have led to high amount of outstanding balance, which indicates the insufficient maternity security for childbearing women.

III. Suggestions on Improving the Maternity Insurance System in China

Childbirth is an act of human self-production that ensures the continuation of the human race. It provides the state with a steady flow of labor force and therefore also has the nature of social behavior. To ensure the safety and health of the mother and the child, all industrialized states with a social security system have established a maternity insurance system. Having a better understanding of maternity insurance systems in foreign countries will be helpful to China in improving its own maternity insurance system.

1. Foreign Experiences

Different countries have adopted different policies and laws on childbirth in light of their respective national conditions. Countries with low natural birth rate usually adopt measures that encourage childbirth and provide welfare benefits to the mother and her family.

(1) Maternity Insurance System in Germany

In Germany, policies adopted by the state to encourage childbirth include children's allowance, parental allowance and parental leave.

a. Children's Allowance. Children's allowance is paid to all persons living in Germany and raising children under the age of 18. Such persons can apply to the government for children's allowance and, upon approve of their application, begin to receive the allowance. The allowance is paid from federal finance to the parent who bears the primary responsibility for raising the children. It is paid through his or her employer on a monthly basis, together with his or her wage. The standard of payment in 1998 was 220 marks per month for each child in a family of one to two children, 300 marks per month for each child in a family of three children, and 350 marks per month for each child in a family of four or more children. Families with children who are receiving education or have disability can receive children's allowance until such children reach the age of 27.

b. Parental Allowance. Parental allowance is available to parents during the first two years following the birth of their child. The maxim amount of parental allowance is 600 marks per month, paid by the employer to an employer together with his or her monthly wage. In order to be eligible for parental allowance, parents must meet the following conditions: they have the custody of their child; they care and rear their child personally; they have no job or do not work more than 19 hours per week during the time the allowance is issued; and they have a residence in Germany. Parents or a single parent whose annual income exceeds legally prescribed limit are not entitled to parental allowance. Parents of multiple births are entitled to multiple parental allowances.

c. Parental Leave. A parent is entitled to three years of parental leave, which can be shared by his or her spouse. During the three year period, the father can take up to three paternal leaves; in principle, an employer may not dismiss a parent during parental leave; upon the agreement by his or her employer, a parent can terminate his or her parent leave ahead of time; during the three years of parent leave, parents enjoy health insurance benefits and enjoy pension insurance and unemployment insurance without having to pay contributions.4

From the above we can see that there are the following differences between the German childbirth policy and the Chinese maternity insurance system:

a. The German childbirth system is a welfare system, rather than an insurance system. In Germany, child-bearers can enjoy various welfare benefits provided by the state without having to pay any fee. This is because the negative growth rate of population in Germany has led the gradual decrease of the contributors to the pension insurance fund and the crisis of pension insurance fund. Therefore, "child-bearers are making an important contribution to the future of our society, especially to our pension system."

b. The childbirth system in Germany covers all women in the country. "Rural people, with their multi-child traditions, are making particular contribution to the safeguarding of the future of the country. Since 1986, the pension insurance system recognized the time spent by rural women in raising children and provided childbearing benefits and allowances to rural women. In this respect, rural women enjoy the same status as urban women."5

c. Pregnant and lying-in women are covered by health insurance system. Namely, all women participating in health insurance are entitled to maternity benefits, which include the followings: i. caring of pregnant women by doctors and maternity assistants, including prenatal checkup, provision of guidance in matters of nutrition, prevention of diseases, and oral hygiene, caring of lying-in women and new born infants by maternity assistants, medicines prescribed by doctors or maternity assistants before and after delivery, dressing materials during operation, and related therapeutic measures are all covered by health insurance; ii. Assistance to pregnant and lying-in women who need home care, namely the pregnant or lying-in women have the right to home care; iii. Pregnant women who have participated in health insurance have the right to give birth in a maternity hospital or the obstetrical department of a general hospital chosen by themselves and agreed upon by a health insurance agency and to medical care provided by the hospital. The cost of delivery and nursing services are paid by health insurance agencies; iv. Maternity allowance. According to the Maternity Protection Law, mothers during the period of maternity protection are entitled to a one-off payment allowance of 150 marks.6 Apart from that, during the protected period, a woman in an employment relationship is entitled to a daily allowance of 25 marks (1998) and a woman recipient of unemployment insurance payments or unemployment benefit is entitled to a daily allowance not more than the daily wage they are entitled to during sick leave. Lying-in women who have not participated in health insurance and therefore are not entitled to maternity allowance can be paid a maxim amount of 400 marks allowance by a federal insurance agency.7

(2) Maternity Insurance System in the UK

In the UK, the 1911 National Insurance Act provided that a woman is entitled to a one-off payment of maternity benefit after childbirth if either she or her husband is covered by the national insurance. The 1913 National Insurance Act further provided that a woman is entitled to a double maternity benefit if both she and her husband are insured. The 1942 Beveridge Report reaffirmed the principle in the National Insurance Act that insurants of maternity insurance must take part in national insurance and pay contribution to the national insurance fund. In order to be entitled to full maternity benefit, a woman must pay no less than 25 weeks of contribution each year and no less than a total of 50 weeks of contribution before childbirth. A woman who does not meet the above requirement is only entitled to a partial maternity benefit. Maternity insurance benefit consists of three parts: the first is baby bonus, provided to the mother of new born infant; the second is maternity allowance. The payment of maternity allowance starts six weeks before the baby is due and lasts for 13 weeks. The 1975 Labor Protection Act gives female employees the right to six weeks of maternity pay from their employers. In order to be eligible for maternity pay, a female employee must meet the following conditions: she must have worked for the same employers for at least two years, with no less than 16 working hours each week, by the end of the 11th week before the baby is due. At the beginning of the implementation of the system, the maternity pay was 90% of the female employee's weekly wage. In late 1980s, the maternity pay was reformed to become a fix-amount payment. The amount is the same as sick pay, namely ?52.5 a week. An amount equivalent to 0.05% of total wage of all the employees participating in national insurance is taken from the National Insurance Fund to create a maternity pay fund. After paying the maternity pay to a female employee, an employer is compensated by the Ministry of Labor from the Maternity Pay Fund under its administration. Therefore, maternity pay is in fact a part of national insurance scheme. In 1982, the coverage of maternity insurance was expanded from the participants of national insurance scheme to all childbearing women in the country.

UK is a famous welfare state and medical benefits rank first among numerous welfare benefits in the UK. The UK has adopted neither the U.S. model of marketized medical service funded mainly by commercial insurance nor the German model of social insurance with shared responsibilities, but the model of National Health Service (NHS), which is run by the government and provides free medical services to all citizens. The UK government uses tax revenue to establish hospitals, hire medical personnel, or purchase medical services from private practitioner and medicines from pharmaceutical companies through government purchase so as to provide medical services to all citizens. Since the beginning of the last century, the NHS system has evolved from a social insurance system to a welfare system. The 1911 National Insurance Act provided that all employees must take medical insurance and the insurance premium is to be paid jointly by the employee, his employer and the government. Medical insurance benefits included sick pay, compensation for the loss of income due to illness, and primary medical services. The expenses of the above benefits are covered by medical insurance fund. The National Service Act, adopted in 1946 and came into effect on July 5, 1948, incorporates all medical services into the NHS system to provide comprehensive medical service to citizens. All UK citizens, regardless or whether they work or not or whether they have the ability to pay, can get free medical services.

The NHS is provided to citizens through three channels: (a) hospital services. Government-run hospitals play a central role in the provision health services and the expenditure of hospital services makes up 2/3 of the total expenditure of the NHS system. Hospitalization in general wards are free. Hospitalization in single wards, if necessary for treatment, is also free. (b) Services provided by general practitioners in clinics. A UK citizen who has selected and registered his or her own general practitioner can get medical services from such general practitioner at any time. After providing the service, a bill is signed by the patient and the expenses are paid by a grass-root family health service committee. The price of a practitioner's service (salary) is determined by the government and is mainly calculated on the basis of the number of patients. (c) Community healthcare service. Community healthcare service has a very wide scope, mainly including maternity and child welfare services, health visitors, and on campus healthcare service. Maternity and child welfare services include prenatal examination for pregnant women, home or hospital birth, postnatal care, regular medical checkup of and provision of milk, vitamins and other foods to infants. The above welfare services are aimed at reducing infant mortality and improving children's health. (d) Provision of medicines. The majority of the medicines in UK are prescribed by general practitioners in clinics. The medicines prescribed by doctors in hospitals make up only a small proportion of the total. 94% of prescribed medicines are purchased from retail pharmacies run by qualified pharmacists. Pharmacies charge a fee of ?2.8 for each prescription, regardless of the prices of the medicines prescribed. Such fee is exempted for children, the elderly, pregnant women, people living below the poverty line and people with chronic illnesses.

The maternity insurance system in the UK is in essence similar to that in Germany, although the latter is regulated by more specific and detailed legal provisions. The two systems share following characteristics: first, in both countries no special maternity insurance system has been established. The expenses of prenatal and postnatal examinations, delivery, and treatment for illnesses resulting from childbirth incurred by a woman during the periods of pregnancy, childbirth and nursing are all covered by healthcare welfare; second, both systems cover all citizens. At the beginning, the system in the UK covered only workers who had entered into a labor relationship. The coverage was expended in 1982 to include all women; third, in both countries, the maternity protection system is part of welfare system, rather than a social insurance system based on the payment of insurance contributions by citizens.

2. Suggestions on Improving the Maternity Insurance System in China

A system can be improved only when its strengths and weaknesses can be identified through comparison with other systems. Currently China is still at the primary stage of the development of the market economy with relatively low level of economic development and, therefore, should not indiscriminately copy the experience of the developed countries. Nevertheless, today's China is the yesterday of the developed countries, whose advanced systems have been improved gradually, rather than overnight. Therefore, China still can learn a lot from the experiences of those countries.

(1) China needs to gradually expand the coverage of maternity insurance. Apart from expanding the coverage over female employees of urban enterprises, the maternity insurance system should, with the establishment of the new rural cooperatives medical service system, expand its coverage in rural areas to gradually include all rural women of childbearing age. On the one hand, the reproduction of urban labor force is no long limited to urban areas. The labor force in various sectors in urban areas mainly consists of young people from rural areas who have received better education and training. On the other hand, with the decline of birthrate (since the implementation of the family planning policy in early 1980s, the birthrate in China has decreased from the 33‰ in 1970 to the current 12‰) and the rapid aging of the population (in 2010, old people consist 12% of the total population in China, this percentage will increase to 30% by 2040),8 more and more attention is paid by society to the quality of population. Since maternity insurance is closely related to the improvement of population quality in China, the government should, while expanding the coverage of maternity insurance, make special efforts to strengthen the work of prenatal and postnatal care in rural areas, so as to ensure the physical and mental health of rural women and children and ultimately improve China's international competitiveness.

(2) Strengthening the enforceability of the relevant laws and regulations. Enterprises participating in urban medical insurance must also participate in maternity insurance; small enterprises and privately or individually-owned businesses that are not require by law to participate in maternity insurance but wish to participate in the insurance should be allowed to do so; in rural areas, farmers participating in new rural cooperative medical scheme should be gradually covered by maternity insurance; local governments at various levels should give the maternity insurance fund certain financial subsidies, just as they do with new rural cooperative medical scheme. The strengthening of the enforceability of the relevant laws and regulations can not only raise more maternity insurance fund, but also avoid gender discrimination in employment and safeguard the labor rights of female employees. Better maternity insurance can also improve the physical and mental health of rural women and children.

(3) Raising the standard of maternity insurance benefits. Although a pay-as-you-go system is adopted for the payment of maternity insurance benefits in accordance with the principle of "determining collection according to expenses", the method of accumulating large amount of fund to cope with maternity risks is contrary to the legislative purpose of the relevant laws and regulations, which can be realized only through the gradual raising of the standard of maternity insurance benefits.

(4) The expenses of the treatment of illnesses caused by childbirth should be covered by medical insurance. Since the boundary between ordinary illnesses and illnesses caused by childbirth is difficult to determine, China should draw on the German and British experiences and provide that expenses of the treatment of illnesses occurred during the pregnancy, childbirth and nursing periods shall all be paid from medical insurance fund so as to reduce payment-related disputes and ensure the timely treatment of sick women.

(5) Raising the level of social pooling and overall planning of maternity insurance fund. Currently the level of overall planning of maternity insurance fund at the county (city) level is too low, resulting in too many agencies responsible for overall planning, dispersed distribution and poor adjustability of the fund. Under the current situation, in which it is difficult to realize the overall planning of maternity insurance fund at the national level, efforts must be made to realize as soon as possible the overall planning of the fund at the provincial level so as to increase the adjustability of the fund and achieve greater social justice.

(6) Allowing both husband and wife to take maternity leave so that they can take turns to stay at home to care for their baby. By drawing on the German experience, China could provide that the 90 day maternity leave be shared between husband and wife so that they can take turns to stay at home and care for their baby. This could, on the one hand, change the age-old traditional idea that only women have the responsibility to take care of children and, on the other hand, reduce women's burden, enable men to experience the hardship of caring for children and enhance family harmony.

*Research fellow, Law Institute of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

1Hu Xiaoyi (ed.), Towards Harmony: Sixty Years of Development of Social Security in China, Beijing: China Labor and Social security Publishing House, 2009, p. 404.

2Ibid., p. 412.

3 Deng Dasong (ed.), Social Insurance, Beijing: China Labor and Social Security Publishing House, 2002, p. 341.

4 Horst J?ger, Einführung in die Sozialversicherung und das übrige Sozialrecht (Introduction to Social Insurance and Related Social Laws), Chinese edition (translated by Liu Cuixiao), Beijing: China Legal System Publishing House, 2000, pp. 152-157.

5 Liu Cuixiao, A Matter of Utmost Importance: A Study on the Social Security System in Rural China, Beijing: Law Press China, 2006, p. 351.

6 Maternity protection period is also called employment prohibition period, which starts six weeks before childbirth and ends five weeks after childbirth. For women with premature or multiple births, the protected period is extended to 12 weeks after birth. Since women do not have wage income during the period of confinement, the state provides them with maternity allowance for several consecutive months so as to safeguard their basic living standard. For expecting and lying-in women who suffer from reduction of income as a result of pregnancy or childbirth, their employers have the obligation to provide them with an allowance equivalent to the average wage of the last three months or 13 weeks of their employment during the maternity protection period.

7 Einführung in die Sozialversicherung und das übrige Sozialrecht (Introduction to Social Insurance and Related Social Laws), Chinese edition (translated by Liu Cuixiao), Beijing: Law Press China, 2006, pp. 45-48.

8 Hu Xiaoyi (ed.), supra note 1, pp. 413 and 415.