The rescue of a 13-year-old maid in Delhi shocked the nation as details of her captivity emerged. A doctor couple holidaying in Bangkok locked their maid in the house without food and two CCTV cameras tracking her movements. If found eating or sitting on the bed, she would be beaten and her body shows signs of previous physical abuse.
As lurid the details may be, it is hardly unusual and is perhaps the story of thousands of girls, many of whom are trafficked, working as maids in houses.
On 10 October, 2006, the government, through a notification, amended the Child Labour (protection and regulation) Act, 1986, to add employment of children as domestic workers or servants in the list of occupations they could not be employed in. Now post the amendment, it is illegal to employ as domestic help, a child below 14 years of age.
However, making a mockery of the law, thousands of boys and girls as young as 10 years are at times found working in households in our neighbourhoods.
The 2001 census, done five years before the notification, enumerated child labour by occupation. The census revealed that 1.86 lakh children below the age of 14 were engaged as child domestic workers. This is third, only to those working in the paan, bidi, cigarette and construction industries.
Three years after the ban on child labour in homes coming into force, NGOs Campaign against Child Trafficking (CACT) and Child against Child Labour (CACL) did a national social audit of implementation of the notification. The audit found that 153 children were rescued between 2006 and 2009 from domestic sector in six states: Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
A report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the unorganised sector says that there are estimated four million domestic workers in India, of whom 92 per cent are women, girls and children. Out of these, 20 per cent are under 14 years of age and 25 per cent between the age of 15 and 20.
But what can be done?
There are a bunch of legislations to protect the interest of children. If the rights of domestic help are violated, a combination of these laws can be used. For example, in the recent Delhi case in which the maid was rescued from Dwarka, police has registered case against the employer under IPC (non- bailable warrant against the employer), Juvenile Justice Act (to protect the child) and Bonded Labour Act (to give compensation to the child). It happened because the Delhi High Court has been hearing a petition on the condition of domestic workers and has been passing orders from time to time regarding the same. However, the condition of domestic workers in other states continues to be abysmal.
Equally important is strict regulation and monitoring of maid placement agencies. It is an open secret that these agencies are involved in trafficking girls with many minors also sent to future employers through them. The Delhi government is expected to come up with guidelines for maid placement agencies. But these guidelines will be applicable only to the agencies registered with the government. Non- registration means the agency can evade scrutiny by the authorities.
However, for all the regulation the fault lies with the employers of these children, people like us. Sometimes it is ignorance, and at times hypocrisy. Many of us are often aware of at least one house in which has minor has been engaged as a domestic help. But we do nothing about it. We hide behind the excuse that by working in a house, the child is earning two meals a day and that is better than living with a family in a remote village. In the process, we become party to an illegal activity and mute witnesses to a crime.
But we are too busy perhaps to look at such issues. Or may be we are not moved because it is not about our kids.
Updated Date: Apr 03, 2012 10:17:46 IST