Trafficked maids to order: The darker side of richer India

Dec 04 2012, 11:21 IST
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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.

help them, the voracious demand for maids has outstripped supply.

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

There are no reliable figures for how many people are trafficked for domestic servitude. The Indian government says 126,321 trafficked children were rescued from domestic work in 2011/12, a rise of almost 27 percent from the previous year. Activists say if you include women over 18 years, the figure could run into the hundreds of thousands. The abuse is difficult to detect as it is hidden within average houses and apartments, and under-reported, because victims are often too fearful to go to the police. There were 3,517 incidents relating to human trafficking in India in 2011, says the National Crime Records Bureau, compared to 3,422 the previous year.

Conviction rates for typical offences related to trafficking - bonded labour, sexual exploitation, child labour and illegal confinement - are also low at around 20 percent. Cases can take up to two years to come to trial, by which time victims have

returned home and cannot afford to return to come to court. Police investigations can be shoddy due to a lack of training and awareness about the seriousness of the crime.

Under pressure from civil society groups as well as media reports of cases of women and children trafficked not just to be maids, but also for prostitution and industrial labour, authorities have paid more attention in recent years. In 2011, the government began setting up specialised anti-human trafficking units in police stations throughout the country.

There are now 225 units and another 110 due next year whose job it is to collect intelligence, maintain a database of offenders, investigate reports of missing persons and partner with charities in raids to rescue victims.

Parveen Kumari, director in charge of anti-trafficking at the ministry of home affairs, says so far, around 1,500 victims have been rescued from brick kilns, carpet weaving and embroidery factories, brothels, placement agencies and houses. "We realise trafficking is a bigger issue now with greater demand for labour in the cities and these teams will help," said Kumari. "The placement agencies are certainly under the radar."

NATIONAL HEADLINES

The media is full of reports of minors and women lured from their villages by promises of a good life as maids in the cities. They are often sent by agencies to work in homes in Delhi, and its satellite towns such as Noida and Gurgaon, where they face a myriad of abuses. In

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