Delhi must regulate agencies to stop abuse of maids, activists say

by Nita Bhalla | @nitabhalla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 29 September 2014 15:48 GMT

A 16-year-old former maid sits inside a protection home on the outskirts of New Delhi November 9, 2012. REUTERS/Mansi Thapliyal

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Many maids in India face physical and sexual violence in a business that thrives on human trafficking

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Authorities in the Indian capital must enforce an order to regulate hundreds of employment agencies behind the trafficking, abuse and exploitation of children and women working as domestic servants in middle-class homes, activists said on Monday.

Many maids in India face physical and sexual violence or have their salaries withheld in a business that has for years thrived on human trafficking by unregulated employment agencies.

Delhi's Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung on Friday signed an executive order aimed at regulating such agencies, following a High Court ruling on Sept. 10 which criticised authorities for shortcomings in overseeing the companies.

"It is a landmark decision ... that will provide protection to over 100,000 domestic workers trafficked through placement agencies in the capital and are working in deplorable conditions, often being sexually abused as well," said Kailash Satyarthi, the founder of anti-trafficking group Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) that took the issue to the High Court.

"We hope that now this order will be strictly imposed in protection of domestic workers and elimination of child labour and trafficking."

There are no reliable figures for how many people in India are trafficked for domestic servitude. The 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 adult women are included, the figure could run into the hundreds of thousands.

The supply chain often starts in the impoverished villages of states like Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand where traffickers convince vulnerable families to send their daughters and sons to the cities with the promise of good jobs.

The children and women are passed onto agents, who bring them in groups to cities where a growing middle class -- doctors, lawyers, teachers, civil servants, businessmen, IT professionals -- are looking for cheap live-in labour.

But there have been numerous reports of employers mistreating their maids -- not paying them or not providing them with proper food and shelter, making them work long hours with no holidays and even locking them up when they go away.

The abuse is difficult to detect as it is hidden within houses and apartments, and under-reported, because victims are often too fearful to go to the police.

The executive order means that placement agencies can only employ people over the age of 18, employees must be registered and have a license from the labour department.

The agencies must provide every worker with a written contract. Authorities must also check any complaints of abuse or exploitation of domestic workers within 30 days.

(Editing by Ros Russell)

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