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The Associated Press March 8, 2010, 3:29PM ET

EU extends childhood leave for parents

A period of leave for parents intended to help keep them in the workforce was extended from three to four months by the European Union on Monday.

Parental leave, a benefit separate from maternity leave, can be taken by a mother or father at any time during their child's first seven years under the EU rule. The timing is left to national governments, which also decide whether it is paid or unpaid.

Parental leave is part of an EU push to keep parents in the work force by making it easier for them to mix work with child-rearing.

The new law will let partners who both work transfer their time off to each other. For example, a mother could take six months' leave and a father only two.

Maternity leave is taken by the mother around the birth or adoption of a child and can vary in the EU from 14 weeks in Malta to as much as 16 months in Sweden. There is no EU law mandating the same benefit for a new father.

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