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France wants more dads to take time off for babies

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PARIS — French President Francois Hollande wants more dads to stay home with their babies and more moms to get back to work faster.

On Friday, International Women’s Day, Hollande, a never-married father of four, proposed legislation to encourage more men to take long-term paternity leave. The Socialist leader has made a point of promoting women’s rights since his election last year, naming an equal rights minister and ensuring that women make up half of his Cabinet.

While most French mothers work, their salaries, pensions and career prospects can suffer from taking long maternity leave. Giving fathers more flexibility with parental leave could help make it easier for mothers to return to their jobs.

Hollande’s proposal would allow fathers to take up to six months of paid leave after the birth of a child and extend other long-term parental leave benefits to fathers. Speaking at an equality conference Thursday night, the French president promised to get the idea written into a draft law by May.

French law currently allows fathers up to two weeks of paid paternity leave right after a baby is born. Mothers are allowed several weeks of maternity leave paid for by the employer.

Then, a parent can take further time off to take care of a child while receiving about €500 a month from the government family agency. With a first child, that parental leave is capped at six months; with two or more children, the leave can go up to three years. The family agency says just 3.5 percent of recipients of this parental leave subsidy are fathers.

Hollande’s government is hoping to shrink the length of time the subsidy can go to mothers to encourage fathers to also put in for the leave. The legislation would also provide more state aid for single parents whose partners fail to pay child support.

The government is considering reducing the total amount of parental leave allowed from three years to two-and-a-half years, in order finance some extra six-month leaves for fathers — a move aimed at keeping costs down for a government struggling to trim spending.

The government also argues that the measure could keep women in the work force and theoretically boost the economy.

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