Slaves on lease in Hyderabad

Times of India 19 Sept 2007 Hyderabad

HYDERABAD: Slaves are available on lease and the business of renting out underage workers is not happening in some far-flung interiors of the state but right in the heart of Hyderabad. Workers, many of them girls in their teens and children under 14 years of age, are being “leased out” to families or ‘parties’ willing to cough up the lease amount for two to three years. At the end of the period the worker is returned to the middleman who leases them out again to another party that quotes a higher bid.

The police say they are aware of this disturbing trend but not as an organised racket but stray instances of people (middlemen) getting teenaged workers to the city and leasing them out for a few thousand rupees. Families residing in the city’s posh areas are leasing out these workers as domestic servants (and not as sex slaves) in many cases. This disturbing trend, that old timers say has been in place for some years now, is going on uninterrupted, fresh ‘enforcements’ of child labour laws not withstanding. An illustrating case is that of a young 17-year-old girl whose ‘lease’ with a ‘respectable’ family got over recently. Scared of the prospect of falling in wrong hands, she pleaded her former employers to pay the middleman a little more so that she could continue staying with them after her lease period got over.

A city old timer and an active citizen who witnessed the deal said, “It happened here, in Punjagutta. She pleaded with the family to pay an additional Rs 1,000 to the middleman. She was scared. They (child workers) are being brought from Orissa, from Srikakulam.’’ Activists say bidding for child workers is commonplace while the police say that only stray cases have been brought to their notice. “Bidding is common for domestic child labour,” says child rights activist Isidore Philip, adding that some children who were leased out in this manner have been rescued recently. And the profile of middlemen who are pumping the trend could be as varied as the friendly local villager to a bus conductor who shuttles between villages and the city. “They are being given not just for domestic helps, but also in shops and other commercial establishments,” says Rafiuddin Nair of Hyderabad Council of Social Welfare.

He says middlemen are now smart and they prefer to lease out child workers so that their place of work can be changed at regular interval to evade the police. “We have come to know of instances and we inform the labour department about it,” says S Umapathi, inspector general of police. He said while stray instances have come to light, it does not appear as an organised racket. The labour department has meanwhile set a target for district officials to file 100 cases of violation of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act. “Children being leased out or engaged in any form is a violation of the Act,” says Bhanwarlal, principal secretary, labour.

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