Millennium Post

Domestic helps are not slaves

It is shocking that a 13-year-old domestic help in New Delhi, a tribal girl from Jharkhand, was brutally beaten by her employer and had to be rescued by the authorities. This is just one of many cases of physical abuse of children many of whom are migrant workers. In Delhi alone, 1,100 children from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and the Northeast have been rescued last year, many of whom were found to be in abysmal conditions. A large percentage of such domestic workers are female, most of whom are unprotected by labour laws or any form of social security. Domestic workers are unorganised and the sector remains unregulated and unprotected by labour laws. Many of these workers come from vulnerable communities and backward areas and most of them are poor, illiterate and unskilled and do not understand the urban labour market. Though some state governments have even fixed minimum wages for hourly, daily and monthly rates for domestic workers, these are hardly implemented. According to the National Sample Survey Organisation, the total number of domestic workers in the country is 47.5 lakh, at least 30 lakh of whom are urban women. According to the Census 2001, the number of children employed as domestic helps was 1,85,505.

These domestic workers are vulnerable to exploitation and to abuse and beatings. They are subject to deprivation of food, forced labour, trafficking, and even murder. Many are underpaid or unpaid and are in circumstances that are little more than modern-day slavery. Abuse is rarely reported and when it is, it usually goes unpunished. Few of these domestic workers have access to the justice system and have little hopes of an amelioration of their conditions. Even those who make complaints of physical violence rarely received redress. Domestic workers, particularly the migrants face abuse and exploitation because the government has failed to adopt sufficient measures needed to protect them. There is a need for a minimum social protection for such domestic workers and their significant contribution to the economy, grossly undervalued, must be recognised. They must be provided a comprehensive set of rights and entitlements. Above all, the government must punish abusive employers and prevent violence by reforming labour laws and policies that leave these workers at their employers’ mercy.
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