Poor state of domestic helps

Neglected section

Even though domestic child labour up to the age of 14 and below is already banned under the Child Labour Regulation and Prohibition Act 2006, yet another case of brutality against a poor domestic worker in New Delhi’s posh Vasant Kunj has left people numbed.

Brutality by affluent employers, well-educated and high income families continue to employ children as domestic helps, which is a gross violation of human rights and decency.

The hidden nature of child domestic work makes it difficult to protect such children working in homes. Also, statistics for children in domestic work are difficult to come by. It is estimated that an additional five million children, who are above the minimum legal age of work in their countries, are involved in paid or unpaid domestic work globally. The International Labour Organisation estimates that 20 per cent of child labourers work as domestic help.

A survey by Save the Children in 2006 estimated around 50,000 children in domestic work in Kolkata alone. A Delhi government estimate in 2007 projected around 70,000 children working as domestic helps in Delhi.

Shireen Vakil Miller, director, advocacy and policy, Save the Children, says, “A child domestic worker, even if he/she stays in a relatively comfortable environment – takes tremendous psychological beating and accepts his/her position in an unequal social hierarchy. Therefore the abuse of domestic workers is not uncommon.”

“The perpetrators are often the educated and the urban middle-class. Children should be educated and not made to work so that they can make use of opportunities which the world is witnessing today. What is most critical is for communities to understand that children’s work perpetuates inter-generational poverty. An uneducated family which does not educate its children for immediate gains, loses out in the long-term,” adds Shireen.

This case has once again highlighted the abuse of domestic help in the Capital where thousands of workers, often children trafficked from remote and poverty-stricken states, toil for long hours in homes with no legal
protection.

Deepali Gupta, a lawyer explains the legal tangles related to domestic workers. “There is actually no specific law to protect domestic workers. They can be either rescued on humanitarian grounds or under juvenile act. This is an unorganised sector and that is why there is no specific law. One works full time, part time, there is no time limitation. But the government should keep a tab on these placements agencies and see if they are given proper wages, holidays and medical help.”

The girl in this case was hired by her employers through a placement agency, who collected her salary directly, which meant she got no money. The police is searching for the placement agency owners. Defending their stance, Rajan Bhagat from the Delhi Police, says, “The government is working towards regulating these placement agencies. And we also work on this matter as per the law and deal with it.”

In the latest case of brutality inflicted on a child domestic worker, one can hope that the government will adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards such crimes and ensure swift justice by implementation of laws on the ground, so that this case acts as a deterrent for other employers.

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