The recent rescue of a teenaged domestic help in south Delh’s Vasant Kunj area after she was treated brutally by her employer is yet another addition to the growing list of shocking cases of ill-treatment meted out to domestics. Most of these helps are from the rural hinterland of the country and, as it turns out, have been trafficked from their homes through a well-organised network that works under the guise of placement agencies in the cities.
Non-regulation of placement agencies, which are often found to be trafficking children, especially minor girls, for domestic work in cities under a facade has been a major cause of concern. In the capital, the issue has often come under the scanner with such cases being reported in the media every now and then. However, despite legal procedures being in place, implementation has been slow.
In the Vasant Kunj case too, after the incident came to light, both the employer and the owner of the placement agency through which the 15-year-old was placed were arrested. Police said that the girl was trafficked from Jharkhand.
Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), an organisation that works for child rights and had first taken the matter of regulating placement agencies to the Delhi High Court in January 2009, says that while there were clear directives to government agencies on regulations, the progress has been dismal.
“It is estimated that there are over 2,000 placement agencies functioning in Delhi, but only 269 have been registered under the Delhi Shops and Establishment Act, 1954. This despite the Delhi High Court’s landmark judgement in 2010, asking the labour department to regulate these agencies that includes their registration, as well as registration of the domestic helps they get hired,” BBA’s Kailash Satyarthi told IANS.
The court had also asked the police to close down all the illegal placement agencies. It asked the Delhi Commission on Women and Child Welfare department to deal with complaints made by domestic helps within a month of their being lodged, as well as ensure recovery of pending wages.
“In a written statement in parliament earlier this year, the government said that between 2008 and 2012, that is in five years, 452,679 cases of trafficked children were reported as being rescued. In Delhi, the number of rescued children is 2,019. But in less than six percent of the cases (25,006) were the culprits prosecuted, and of that only 0.6 percent (3,394) resulted in convictions,” Satyarthi said.
Even as activists await a law following the Delhi government’s draft Delhi Private Placement Agency Regulation Bill which was presented to the high court in 2012, stories of human anguish continue to surface.
The story of two sisters, Rumi and Sumi, aged 12 and 14, is depressingly familiar. The duo was lured by a trafficker, a woman named Haseena Begum, from their home in Assam’s Lakhimpur district when their parents were not around. When their mother, Kuloda Gawla, returned from work, she raised an alarm at not finding her daughters. That was when the villagers said that the girls were seen accompanying the woman.
Five years hence, Kuloda has still not seen her daughters. Endless rounds of the local police station and a frantic search led her to realise that her daughters had been trafficked to Delhi, and that Haseena and her husband Manoj run a placement agency in Panipat in Haryana.
Maina Beg, who hails from the same place as Kuloda and whose 14-year-old daughter Anu has also been missing under similar circumstances for the past six years, finally approached BBA’s local victim assistance team for help. The team, in turn wrote to the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the police, and is now awaiting rescue in both the cases.
Rescue, however, is only case-specific relief and for actual change to take place, activists say that placement agencies must be regulated so that more and more children are prevented from being sucked into the vicious cycle in the future. In cities where there is a constant demand for domestic help, it’s also important for people to be made aware that their domestic may be a helpless victim of trafficking.