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.

April, a 13-year-old maid heard crying for help from the

balcony of a second floor flat in a residential complex in Delhi's Dwarka area became a national cause celebre. The girl, from Jharkhand state, had been locked in for six

days while her employers went holidaying in Thailand. She was starving and had bruises all over her body. The child, who had been sold by a placement agency, is now in a government boarding school as her parents are too poor to look after her. The employers deny maltreatment, and the case is under investigation, said Shakti Vahini, the Delhi-based child rights charity which helped rescue her.

In October, the media reported the plight of a 16-year-old girl from Assam, who was also rescued by police and Shakti Vahini from a house in Delhi's affluent Punjabi Bagh area. She had been kept inside the home for four years by her employer, a doctor. She said he would rape her and then give her emergency contraceptive pills. The doctor has disappeared.

ONE ON EVERY BLOCK

Groups like Save the Children and ActionAid estimate there are 2,300 placement agencies in Delhi alone, and less than one-sixth are legitimate.

"There are so many agencies and we hear so many stories, but we are not like that. We don't keep the maids' salaries and all are over 18," said Purno Chander Das, owner of Das Nurse Bureau, which provides nurses and maids in Delhi's Tughlakabad village. The Das Nurse Bureau is registered with authorities - unlike

many agencies operating from rented rooms or flats in slums or poorer neighbourhoods like Shivaji Enclave in west Delhi. It is often to these places that maids are brought until a job is found.

There are no signboards, but neighbours point out the apartments that house the agencies and talk of the comings and goings of girls who stay for one or two days before being taken away.

"There is at least one agency in every block," says Rohit, a man in his twenties, who lives in one of scores of dilapidated government-built apartment blocks in Shivaji Enclave. With a commission fee of up to 30,000 rupees ($550) and a maids' monthly salary of up to 5,000 rupees ($90), an agency can make more than $1,500 annually for each girl, say anti-trafficking groups.

A ledger recovered after one police raid, shown by the charity Bachpan Bachao Andolan to Thomson Reuters Foundation, had the names, passport pictures and

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