ARE WE REALLY DEVELOPING?
Extreme poverty and lack of education and employment make girls more vulnerable to being trafficked from rural areas to big cities in India.
In a six-bed women’s ward in New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital lies a frail 15-year-old girl. Her face and head are bandaged, leaving visible only a bruised blue-black eye and swollen lips. Burn marks and scabs extend down her neck to her whole body, and a disfigured ear clings on to her face like a piece of mangled flesh. A strange stench surrounds her. The nurse who comes to check on her explains the smell: A wound on the girl’s skull is rotting and has filled with maggots.
The girl tries to speak. In a muffled voice, she says: “My employer would beats me every day with a broom and a stool. Many times she would put a hot pan on my body andburn my skin. That’s how the skin on my skull started peeling out as she repeatedly burned the same spot.”
Somehow the horrific brutality inflicted on this teenager is not an isolated case. Thousands of girls are trafficked every year from remote villages to large cities and sold as domestic workers. Many are abused or sexually exploited.
Extreme poverty, lack of education and employment, and poor implementation of the government’s minimum wage system in rural India make girls more vulnerable to being trafficked. The 2013 Global Slavery Index,found that almost half of the 30 million “modern slaves” in the world are from India.
In the western part of India’s capital city, New Delhi, more than 5,000 domestic worker placement agencies operate out of a nondescript neighborhood called Shakurpur Basti. For years, the agencies have flourished by indulging in the business of trafficking minor girls and selling them as domestic slaves in the cities.
The agencies liaise with natives of remote villages, mostly from the eastern part of India, who, as “local agents,” carry out the first step in the trafficking process. The agents identify underage girls from extremely poor families and lure them to the city with the promise of a good job. Once the girls are in the city, the agents sell them for about US$120 each to a domestic worker placement agency. Theagency then re-sells her to a family as domestic labor, charging between US$600 and US$700.The girls are made to work 14 to 16 hours per day and do all of the household chores, from cooking and cleaning to baby-sitting. They are paid almost nothing.
Often their monthly wage is paid to the agencies—not to them.Most of the girls get trapped in this vicious cycle forever. Unaware and often illiterate, they have little knowledge of their rights and no clue of how to return home. The traffickers and agencies make the most of their vulnerability and, for years, move them from one household to another. Many are sexually exploited.
But how does such slavery thrive, let alone exist in the 21st century?