Child worker abuse is still common in India

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by Mari Marcel Thekaekara


I recently visited a friend who is one of the people who started HAQ, an organization that is fighting for children’s rights, at her office in Delhi. As I listened to phone calls coming in, with stories of abused children, I thought to myself: how can their team to support children, who are people who love children very much, live with this difficult experience? The cases are terrible. I am shocked and very upset. And I think: the society we live in is terrible.

Last week, HAQ received phone calls that reported two different cases of abused children, both 13-year-old girls working as maids. Aasha and Seema (names changed) from West Bengal and Jharkhand, in central India.

People in Delhi promised Aasha a job with enough money that could help her poor family back home in Jalpaiguri, one of West Bengal’s poorest districts. Last August, she was employed with a couple, both doctors, in an area where rich people lived. They promised her 2200 rupees ($43) per month. But this was money that she never saw. Every time she asked about her salary, her employer beat her again and again.

On Monday night, she ran away and went to find help in a house close by. The neighbour was shocked when she saw Aasha. She called the police and asked for the phone number of HAQ. When the neighbour called HAQ, I heard that the child had bad cuts on her body and her eyes were very large and sick because of all the beatings from her employer. Aasha was so shocked and hurt that she couldn’t speak. The police came and quickly took her to the hospital.

A few days later, the police arrested her employer. They said what he had done to Aasha was a crime under Indian law. Police went to the office of the employment company that had sent her to the doctors’ house, but the office was not open. The man who ran the office, who made big promises to get girls to come to Delhi for work, is still free. The police are looking for him.

Seema, another maid 13 years old, also had a sad story. Her uncle sold her to an employment company, and then left her there alone. The company sent her to work as a maid to a family of two doctors in a part of Delhi with richer families. Her working day began at 6 in the morning. Seema had to clean the house, clean the bathrooms, wash clothes and pots and pans and water the plants. They didn’t give her three normal meals a day, but just two small flat pieces of bread called roti in India.

When the family went away for two weeks to Thailand, they left Seema for six days in their apartment. They locked the door and Seema was inside, alone. The neighbour’s maid saw Seema sitting on the balcony and crying. She called the police and told them something was wrong. The police said what the couple did was a crime, and they are waiting for the couple to come back from Thailand.

Many people want to find a maid in all Indian cities. The demand is great. So is the wrong use and abuse of these workers who come into the city from the countryside. They have no protection against such abuse. In Delhi, the government thinks there are about 2,300 employment companies or agencies, but only 325 are registered. There are no good regulations for this kind of employment agency. Often even the agencies that are registered take and then send workers who are abused.

Workers in the home are the largest number of women and girls who work in the cities. In Delhi, organizations that help workers say that nearly 60 per cent of them are child workers or ‘child labor’, younger than 14 years.

To change this, it is necessary to punish these bad agencies in the villages and cities, and also the employers, who are often people from the ‘middle class’. TV and the newspapers should start to tell the names of these agencies and employers, to make known to the public what they do. This can help to stop the use of child labour.

When people learn about such abuse, they should send this information to the right office. For example, in three cases, doctors abused their workers. Shouldn’t the Indian Medical Association stop these doctors from working?

Right now, we have excellent laws in India, but few of these laws are used in daily life. People who break the law are not arrested. That is the big trouble we have in our lives in India.

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