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Trafficked maids to order: The darker side of richer India

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Demand for maids is increasing because of the rising incomes of families who now have money to pay for people to cook, clean and look after their children. (Reuters) Demand for maids is increasing because of the rising incomes of families who now have money to pay for people to cook, clean and look after their children. (Reuters)
SummaryDemand for maids is increasing because of the rising incomes of families who now have money to pay for people to cook, clean and look after their children.

Inside the crumbling housing estates of Shivaji Enclave, amid the boys playing cricket and housewives chatting from their balconies, winding staircases lead to places where lies a darker side to India's economic boom.

Three months ago, police rescued Theresa Kerketa from one of these tiny two-roomed flats. For four years, she was kept here by a placement agency for domestic maids, in between stints as a virtual slave to Delhi's middle-class homes.

"They sent me many places - I don't even know the names of the areas," said Kerketa, 45, from a village in Chhattisgarh state in central India. "Fifteen days here, one month there. The placement agent kept making excuses and kept me working. She

took all my salary."

Often beaten and locked in the homes she was sent to, Kerketa was forced to work long hours and denied contact with her family. She was not informed when her father and husband died. The police eventually found her when a concerned relative went to a local charity, which traced the agency and rescued her together with the police.

Abuse of migrant maids from Africa and Asia in the Middle East and parts of Southeast Asia is commonly reported. But the story of Kerketa is the story of many maids and nannies in India, where a surging demand for domestic help is fuelling a business that, in large part, thrives on human trafficking by unregulated placement agencies. As long as there are no laws to regulate the placement agencies or even define the rights of India's unofficially estimated 90 million domestic workers, both traffickers and employers may act with impunity, say child and women's rights activists and government officials.

Activists say the offences are on the rise and link it directly to the country's economic boom over the last two decades.

"Demand for maids is increasing because of the rising incomes of families who now have money to pay for people to cook, clean and look after their children," says Bhuwan Ribhu from Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), the

charity that helped rescue Kerketa. Economic reforms that began in the early 1990s have transformed the lifestyles of many Indian families. Now almost 30 percent of India's 1.2 billion people are middle class and this is expected to surge to 45 percent by 2020.

Yet as people get wealthier, more women go out to work and more and more families live on their own without relatives to

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