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Navigating Parental Leave: The Van Wyk Judgment and Its Implications for Equality and Dignity

Paternity leave laws
In a landmark ruling, the Johannesburg High Court in the case of Van Wyk And Others v Minister Of Employment And Labour (2024 (1) SA 545 (GJ)), addressed the disparities in parental leave entitlements provided by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) 75 of 1997. The crux of the case lay in the constitutionality of sections 25, 25A, 25B, and 25C of the BCEA, which were challenged for perpetuating discrimination against different categories of parents—birth, adoptive, and commissioning parents in surrogate agreements—and between mothers and fathers.

The Court’s Findings

The court concluded that the provisions in question indeed contravened Sections 9 and 10 of the Constitution, which safeguard equality and dignity. It highlighted the legislation’s failure to align with modern understandings of parental roles, which recognize the value of both parents’ involvement in child-rearing right from the early stages of a child’s life.

Key Highlights of the Judgment:

  • The BCEA’s current provisions do not adequately accommodate the nurturing needs of a baby or toddler, disregarding the purpose of parental leave.
  • A disparity was found in the duration of leave granted to commissioning and adoptive ‘mothers’ compared to birth mothers, with the former receiving a lesser 10-week period, as opposed to the latter’s 16-week period.
  • The allocation of a mere 10 days’ leave to fathers was criticized as reflective of outdated notions that sideline a father’s role in early parenting.

The Court’s Order

The court ordered that the challenged sections of the BCEA and the corresponding sections of the Unemployment Insurance Act 63 of 2001 be declared invalid. However, understanding the implications of an immediate alteration, the declaration of invalidity was suspended for two years. This gives Parliament ample time to rectify the legislation.

In the interim, a groundbreaking measure was put in place allowing parents to share four months of parental leave, thus enabling them to decide how best to cater to their child’s early developmental phase.

Implications for Parents

This judgment is a significant step towards redefining parental roles in law, moving away from gendered stereotypes and towards a more inclusive approach that recognizes the diverse structures of modern families.


  1. What changes have been made to parental leave entitlements? All parents are now entitled to share four months of parental leave, as they see fit until the legislation is amended.
  2. Does this ruling affect both mothers and fathers? Yes, the judgment affects all parents, regardless of gender, removing the disparity in leave entitlements between mothers and fathers.
  3. What was the reason behind the court’s decision? The decision was based on the need to align leave entitlements with constitutional guarantees of equality and the dignity of all parents, as well as the nurturing needs of children.
  4. Can adoptive and commissioning parents receive the same leave as birth parents now?Yes, under the interim measures, adoptive and commissioning parents can share the same four months of parental leave allotted to birth parents.

This ruling is not just a legal triumph but a societal shift towards a more equitable distribution of parenting responsibilities. It ensures that all parents have the opportunity to be actively involved in the critical early stages of their child’s life, thereby fostering a nurturing environment that upholds the child’s best interests.

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