A man claiming to be an employment agent approached the mother of a 19-year-old woman with an offer: her daughter could work in a New Delhi household and send money home to her impoverished family. The mother never received a rupee, and she didn’t see her daughter for two years, until she was freed two months ago after an intervention by an NGO. The woman is still too traumatised to speak about her experience.
There are an estimated 18 million people enslaved in India, according to the annual Global Slavery Index, which was published last month by the Walk Free Foundation. That’s more than any other country and far outstrips China, which followed with about three million of the global total of 46 million people enslaved through “human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage or commercial sexual exploitation”.
Representatives of the NGO Chetanalaya has liberated more than 800 enslaved domestic workers over the past 15 years, but that’s just a drop in the bucket, according to legal officer Gaurav Kumar Tomar. He reckons that many of the approximately 800,000 women who cook, clean, and care for children in homes in New Delhi are working without pay. The Ministry of Women and Child Development has written a new human trafficking law. But some civil society groups say the draft legislation is too focused on sex trafficking and doesn’t go far enough to protect enslaved domestic workers or crack down on employment agencies that sell women into domestic work with very little or no pay. The draft legislation refers to the trafficking of women into sexual slavery, but it doesn’t mention domestic workers as a specific category of trafficked persons. According to legal officer Gaurav Kumar Tomar that many of the approximately 800,000 women who cook, clean, and care for children in homes in New Delhi are working without pay. “I can guarantee that half of them are placed through these illegal agencies and trafficked,” he said. “They easily outnumber sex workers. I have seen horrific cases where girls are enslaved for decades together, where they are not allowed to step out or speak to anyone else,” he said. “The new law must identify domestic workers to empower them.”
Kalai Selvi, a regional coordinator with the National Domestic Workers Association. “The child is basically sold to the owners.”
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