Paternity leave - A time to cherish and nourish new bonds

UNICEF's paternity leave policy enables fathers to be a part of their infant's lives

Fatima Shahryar
The image shows a father kissing his infant son

15 June 2018

After five years of marriage, I distinctly remember this day last year when my wife and I received the news of our first baby arriving. It was the happiest day of our lives. We were ecstatic and nervous at the same time, as we made preparations for the arrival of our little one. Nine months went by and we were ready to hold God’s biggest gift in ours arms.

Our son, Baryal Muhammad was born on 16th March, this year. While the mom was doing well, the baby had to be admitted into newborn care unit as he was diagnosed with high ammonia and low platelets count. It was a stressful time, as we wanted to take our son home but he had to be kept in the hospital for treatment.

This was the time when I knew my wife and son needed me the most. I knew about UNICEF’s two-month paternity leave policy, which makes application easy through an online system. I registered my son’s birth online with the organization and received a response within 24 hours. My wife was discharged from the hospital, and though herself frail, she worried more about the baby. However, she stayed at home accompanied by her sisters and my mother, while I stayed with our son at the hospital, bringing her in after every few hours to feed the baby. I was striving to care for both wife and son at home and at hospital, but knew that it was the first test of parenthood. A new experience that made me realise the struggles, strength and beauty of becoming a father.


"Spending time with my wife and son at home really helped us evolve a caring environment, a must for every new born."

Mohammad Zahoor, Communication for Development Officer at UNICEF Pakistan

My son fought the illnesses and was discharged after ten days, as he fully recovered. This is when we named him Baryal, which means The Victorious in Pushto language.

UNICEF provides a two-month paternity leave to its staff members. I feel that this is a major facility that enables an employee to provide the most needed support to his spouse, which strengthens the family bond. In Pakistan, there is no official policy for paternity leave. Thus, most fathers either miss out on being with the family at this crucial time or avail their annual leave. Childbirth is the time when a father must shoulder a lot of responsibilities. If not spared from office work during this time, family and work both suffer.

The image shows a father hokding his infant son in his arms
Mohammad Zahoor, Communication for Development Officer at UNICEF Pakistan shares his experience of becoming a father and getting a chance to spend time with his wife and boy, Baryal Muhammad (2 months), during paternity leave

Spending time with my wife and son at home really helped us evolve a caring environment, a must for every new born. No doubt, parenting is a demanding job. One has to give up his sleep and alter lifestyle preferences; readjusting it all to the baby’s schedule. A mother cannot do this alone. It is imperative that the dad is also there to help and support, at least during the first few months.

Giving birth is an emotional and exhaustive experience for a woman. Therefore, the best a husband can do is to be around for her emotional support. In Pakistan, the family support system is strong and other family members are also around but I realized that no one could provide the support to my wife, that I could.

I change my son’s diapers whenever needed, put him to sleep and take care of him when my wife is busy with household or needs rest. It is amazing how Baryal sleeps to my lullaby that I sing to him in our native language Pushto. He recognizes my voice and responds when I call his name. I am grateful to my organisation for giving me this opportunity to be available for my family, enjoy the early development of my child and nurture a bond stronger than any other.