December 6, 2017 / 2:23 PM / 11 days ago

Police rescue of enslaved Indian girl prompts probe of upmarket homes

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Police will investigate if upmarket homes in southern India are hiding child laborers after rescuing a 13-year-old girl who was enslaved for four years, as demand for domestic workers soars.

The police rescued the girl on Monday evening, following an alert by campaigners, and booked her employers - a businessman and his wife - under India’s child labor prohibition law.

“Most of the children employed as domestic servants are poor and their parents send them for employment, food and shelter,” said police inspector Harishchandra Reddy of the city’s Cyberabad area, where many technology companies are based.

“We will now send our people to villas, apartments and gated communities to check if children are employed. We have to focus on this,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The police said they are still looking for the parents of the girl, who activists said was physically abused and prevented from leaving the housing complex, some 200 km (124 miles) from her family home, during her four-year entrapment.

“Her parents ... agreed to send her to the businessman’s house to work for free as he promised financial support at the time of her marriage,” said Achyuta Rao, president of child rights group Balala Hakkula Sangham (BHS), who raised the alarm.

The charity has helped rescue over 300 children this year, mostly domestic workers.

“Children employed as domestic workers are more vulnerable to physical, and also sexual, abuse because they remain invisible to the public eye,” he said.

India’s rising affluence and growing numbers of working women have spurred demand for domestic workers, which remains a largely unregulated sector.

Earlier this year, a 12-year-old girl who worked as a maid in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru was found dead in mysterious circumstances.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates India has almost 6 million child workers aged between five and 17.

Rights activists say traffickers often target poor villages and convince vulnerable families to send their daughters away for employment.

“People still do not fear laws against child labor. Hiring children as domestic helps is a regular practice,” Rao said.

Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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