France Mulls Longer Paternity Leave for Fathers

Jospin Plan Would Give 14-Day Break

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PARIS, JUNE 18, 2001 ( Fathers would enjoy a 14-day paternity leave when a child is born, receiving a full salary paid by the state, under a plan announced by French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

The proposal, which will be presented in Parliament this autumn, hopes to «cause an evolution in behavior» within the family and businesses, said Ségolène Royale, Socialist Minister of the Family and Children.

The plan aims to respond to shifts in French society. Growing numbers of mothers are working outside the home, while fathers are more aware of the need to bond with their children from the earliest years.

Until now, fathers had a three-day leave for reasons of «family solidarity.» Working women get 16 weeks of maternal leave for their first two children, and 26 weeks for the third and any thereafter.

The policy of Nordic countries is being followed. For a long time, Danish «daddies» have been given two weeks of leave; the Finns, 18 days; and the Swedes, 40 days, if the wife must work.

Until recently, French lawmakers were almost exclusively concerned with women. Since 1997 mothers can, if they wish, work part time (16 to 32 hours a week) in the first two years after the birth or adoption of a child, with the guarantee of returning later to full-time work.

Moreover, women can request working hours that are compatible with family needs. Many women stay home on Wednesdays, a holiday for nurseries and elementary schools.

A French mother also has the possibility to stay at home until her last child is 3 years old. She receives a bonus from social security based on how many children she has. However, if the mother wishes to return to work, she can choose between a day-care center and a state-approved and -paid nanny.

France and Holland have the highest rates of population growth in Europe. Births in France rose in each of the last three years, including a 5% increase in 2000. Last year saw 300,000 marriages, a 17-year high. Some observers credit the trends to the effect of stable economic growth combined with family-protection policies.

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