Sat, Dec 08, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Domestic servitude: The dark side of richer India

As India’s growing middle class drives demand for maids, rights groups are concerned over their treatment by traffickers, placement agencies and employers

By Nita Bhalla  /  TrustLaw, NEW DELHI

“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 (US$550) and a maid’s monthly salary of up to 5,000 rupees, an agency can make more than US$1,500 annually for each girl, anti-trafficking groups say.

A ledger recovered after one police raid, shown by the charity Bachpan Bachao Andolan to Thomson Reuters Foundation, had the names, passport pictures and addresses of 111 girls from villages in far-away states like West Bengal, Jharkhand, Assam and Chhattisgarh, most of them minors.

The Delhi state government has written a draft bill to help regulate and monitor placement agencies and has invited civil society groups to provide feedback. However, anti-trafficking groups say what is really needed a country-wide law for these agencies, which are not just mushrooming in cities like Delhi but also in Mumbai and other towns and cities.

The legislation would specify minimum wages, proper living and working conditions and a mechanism for financial redress for unpaid salaries. It would also specify that placement agencies keep updated record of all domestic workers which would be subject to routine inspection by the labor department.

In the meantime, victims like Theresa Kerketa just want to warn others.

“The agencies and their brokers tell you lies. They trap you in the city where you have no money and know no one,” said Kerketa, now staying with a relative in a slum on the outskirts of south Delhi as she awaits compensation.

“I will go back and tell others. It is better to stay in your village, be beaten by your husband and live as a poor person, than come to the city and suffer at the hands of the rich,” she said.

TrustLaw is a global news service covering human rights and governance issues and run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters.

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