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 labor, authorities have paid more attention in recent years.
Last year, the government began setting up specialized anti-human trafficking units in police stations throughout the country.
There are now 225 units and another 110 due next year whose job 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 realize trafficking is a bigger issue now with greater demand for labor in the cities and these teams will help,” said Kumari. “The placement agencies are certainly under the radar.”
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 April, a 13-year-old maid heard crying for help from the balcony of a second-floor apartment 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. Her 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 the authorities — unlike many agencies operating from rented rooms or apartments in slums or poorer neighborhoods 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 neighbors 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.