In the shadow of abuse, exploitation

The economic future of urban India has its foundation in a vast and amorphous force of informal labour. In April, a McKinsey and Co. study estimated that by 2030, nearly 590 million Indians will live in the cities— roughly twice the population of the US. This urban boom is a combination of factors: a massive pull from development, construction projects and increased demand for domestic staff from a growing middle class.Nuclear families with two working partners are becoming more common in the cities and, without the support of an extended family, domestic servants have become a necessity.These trends have catalysed the mass movement of migrant workers to the cities in search of better job opportunities. Such workers, particularly the women, are becoming the driving force behind urbanization and the crutch that supports India’s economic expansion.A recent study of domestic workers in the slums of Delhi by the Indian Social Studies Trust found that nearly 80% of them were migrants, 41% of whom said they came to Delhi for jobs as domestic workers. Yet they remain a largely invisible force, working in the informal economy as maids, cooks and nannies, unprotected by labour laws and frequently falling prey to social exclusion and financial, physical and sexual exploitation. Perhaps the most vulnerable are the single women who flock to the cities with spurious “placement agencies” to work as live-in maids and those who fall prey to traffickers. But there are positive outcomes too. In Delhi, married women moving their families into urban slums have become the primary bread earners. In Bihar, village women who have all but lost their men to seasonal migration must figure out how to function as the de facto household heads.In a three-part series starting today, Mint examines the issue of informal labour from the perspective of such women, whose traditional roles are changing in the face of India’s transformation.

With no regulatory oversight, dishonest agencies are placing domestic help in a legal and economic vacuum

Cordelia Jenkins & Malia Politzer in LIVE MINT

New Delhi: Bardani Logun sits on a plastic chair in the communal room of a hostel in Rohini, north Delhi, where she lives with her toddler, and speaks candidly about being beaten, abused and starved. She is one of countless young women from the tribal belt of India who have migrated to Delhi to find work as live-in maids, hoping to send their earnings back home to support impoverished families in Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh or West Bengal. Like many others, Logun found work through a placement agency, which promised to find her a full-time job and a secure salary living with a Delhi family.

The reality was grim. Her employers kept her trapped in the house, bullied and starved her. “I worked for them for only a month,” she says, “and then I couldn’t stay any more.” The placement agency withheld her wages and she couldn’t afford the train fare home. Logun and her daughter, Theresa, were stranded homeless in Delhi until they found the hostel run by Nirmala Niketan, a non-governmental organization (NGO). As her mother speaks, Theresa runs about with the other boys and girls who stay in the hostel, shrieking with laughter in the glare of a muted TV set in the corner. Other women listen in. Each has her own tale to tell and the accounts are depressingly uniform: a litany of sexual or physical abuse, stolen wages and isolation; they illustrate a wide-spread, but largely unacknowledged, problem.

While there is surging demand for household help in metros such as Delhi, the absence of a regulatory framework has led to the emergence of a shadow industry of placement agencies, spiking from a handful at the start of the decade to more than 1,000 today in the Capital alone. In the absence of oversight or registration requirements, these agencies are given free rein to recruit and place women in private homes without being held accountable for their working conditions. Worse, in some instances, agents have been guilty of trafficking girls, forcing them into bonded labour or prostitution and stealing their wages.

The problem

Domestic work is not recognized under India’s labour laws, nor is it included under the minimum wage law in most states. As a result, agencies are not required to retain lists of women placed, or records of employers. “Workers are not being told the conditions under which they are being placed. They might not know how much their salary is, how much commission the placement agencies will take, or when they will get paid,” says Neetha Pillai, a senior fellow at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, a think tank. As a result many women move from one exploitative situation to another.

According to Pillai, agencies create a network of locals in the villages who are paid about Rs. 1,000 per head for every girl they send to the cities. Grace, who uses only one name, was only eight years old when she was first brought to Delhi, by a neighbour who helped find her a job through an agent. Now 17, she wears a green kurta and a bold, somewhat combative, expression as she describes the abuse she suffered. “The mother would slap me and shout at me,” she says. After four years of abuse, Grace went to the agency for help. “I cried in front of them and said that I didn’t want to stay here any more; I said I wanted to go home.” The agent refused to pay Grace her wages and instead placed her with another family.

Her next employer was equally harsh. “She said that I didn’t know anything, that I was from the jungle and I was ignorant. She said it was God who was providing me with shelter and a home and that I should feel lucky to be there. It built up her pride to make me feel lower than her,” Grace says.

She was kept inside, even prevented from going to church on Christmas Day, until a neighbour’s maid intervened and told Grace about Nirmala Niketan, a women’s cooperative that acts as a placement agency, children’s hostel and safe house for domestic workers in need.

Subhash Bhatnagar, who has been running Nirmala Niketan for six years, has regular dealings with employers and notes that dishonest agents exploit them too, holding them to ransom over commission fees and availability of staff. For some girls, the outcome is even worse—the brothels in places such as GB Road in Delhi are full of migrant women. According to Ravi Kant, of the anti-trafficking
NGO Shakti Vahini, most of the girls on GB Road are either from Nepal or the tribal belt. Most, he says, were recruited by local agents who promise good jobs as domestic workers.

Unsafe migration

A 20-year-old from a poor village in Andhra Pradesh is one such victim. She was brought to Delhi by an acquaintance from her village who promised to help place her with a good family as a maid. Instead, she was sold to a brothel along GB Road. There she was raped, beaten and forced to have sex with nearly 40 men daily. She was one of the lucky ones—she was rescued by the Delhi police and Shakti Vahini after her family filed a missing persons report. Most women do not escape.

“There’s a breaking-in period,” says Asha Jayamaran, who works at anti-trafficking NGO Apne Aap. “They are raped repeatedly, tortured such as burnt with cigarettes, blackmailed, threatened that their families will be hurt. By the time the breaking-in period is complete, they suffer a sense of shame and guilt and do not want to return to their villages.”

It’s hard to say how many women are trafficked into prostitution by dishonest placement agencies, but villages are rife with stories of missing girls. And once a girl disappears, it’s virtually impossible to track her down.

“There is a big link between unsafe migration and trafficking,” says Kant. “A lot of the unskilled labour is coming to Delhi in search of the migrant dream. But they don’t necessarily know where to look, so they rely on placement agencies, who say they’ll place them in homes. Instead they’re sold to brothels, or placed in prostitution rackets and sent to various villages in Haryana, Delhi and Punjab. Migration gone wrong becomes trafficking.”

Most activists and experts advocate formalizing the connection between agents and employers by mandated registration as a way out of this destructive cycle. The fact that Delhi’s live-in maids exist in a legal and economic vacuum (often without bank accounts or identification papers) makes them virtually untrackable, unprotected by law and liable to disappear without a trace.

Easier said than done

“Yes, placement agencies have to register—but they don’t have to say what they do,” says Reiko Tsushima, a specialist on gender equality and women workers’ issues, at the International Labour Organization (ILO). “Agencies can be registered as societies, trade unions, trusts, NGOs—but there aren’t any audits or mechanisms for labour checks.”

However, this is easier said than done. There have been attempts to regulate the industry since independence (nationally, there are around 11 versions of Bills to regulate and improve conditions of domestic workers), but none has succeeded in becoming law. In 2008, the National Commission for Women (NCW) attempted to address some of these issues in a Domestic Workers Bill, which would require compulsory registration of agencies, employers and workers and regulate working conditions. However the Bill never made it past the draft stage.

With legal recourse not readily available, the only hope is a clutch of not-for-profit organizations. Bhatnagar, for instance, is working through Nirmala Niketan to try to establish a system by which girls can return home, but he acknowledges that it won’t be easy. There’s also the problem of sexual abuse and its stigma in the villages. In fact, according to Pillai, rape is so common that some agencies inform girls at the outset that they will pay for an abortion should a pregnancy occur. But because many of the girls are Christians, they refuse to have abortions, and are consequently excluded if they try to go back. Returning home can be a more daunting prospect than leaving, says Bhatnagar. “Their families don’t want them to come back or get married. In the long term, these girls are stuck here.”

It isn’t surprising then, that despite everything that’s happened to her in Delhi, Bardani Logun won’t go back to her village. Her in-laws don’t want her any more, she says, and she can’t survive alone. Similarly, Grace has nothing to return to: “My parents didn’t take an interest in my life, they only wanted the money.” For most girls, the journey back to the village will remain an unrealized goal.

This is the first of a three-part series on the plight of women workers in India.

Next: Independent earners with unstable livelihood.


India: Community vigilance rescues Roshni

On the occasion of the Fifth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols, taking place from 18 to 22 October 2010 at UNODC Headquarters, Vienna, our Office is publishing a series of stories related to human trafficking. The following story about Roshni, a 32 year old survivor of human trafficking, is the second in the series.

The story of a survivor of human trafficking



For Nadim, a poor carpenter from West Bengal state, 6th October 2010 marked the end of a grueling search for his sister Roshni, who had been kidnapped by traffickers on 17th July 2010.

Sitting in a small hotel room in the crowded Paharganj area of New Delhi with his mother and uncle, Nadim recounts a shocking tale of horror and despair. Roshni, a 32 year old woman, lived with her family nearly 35 kilometers away from her brother. She is a mother of 6 children. Her husband is unwell and cannot work. As the sole earning member of her family, Roshni earned money by doing odd jobs in the village. Three of her children were studying and living in a missionary hostel in a town close to the capital city of Kolkata. Roshni would often travel by the local train to visit them. During her visits, she befriended a woman who sympathized with her financial condition and promised her a job in a hospital as an attendant.

“I was dead against my sister working anywhere,” says an angry Nadim. “I had told her that I would help her financially. On  18th  July I got a call from her saying that she had got a job and she would return after a week with 3500 rupees. I was furious on hearing this, but anyway waited for her return. When she did not come back, I did not know what to do. I filed complaints in the local police station, contacted various political figures, searched everywhere for her – but without any success” he says, showing all the papers he has meticulously filed over the past two months.

Roshni walks into the room as Nadim is talking, accompanied by a policewoman. She sits down and listens to her brother talk. Slowly she starts revealing her side of the story, “On 17th July I got a call from my friend saying that I should go and meet her immediately for the job. When I went to meet her, there were two women and a man waiting for me. They gave me some food, which was drugged and put me on a train. They forced me to call my brother and tell him that I had got a job. Since I was not fully conscious, I could not understand what was happening, where I was going, why I was on a train. All my protests were in vain. Two more men joined us on the way. They took away all my belongings – my mobile phone, my gold jewellery, my slippers… We finally reached Delhi and I stayed at someone’s house for that night. The next day I was sold to a brothel.”




Recounting her days at the brothel, Roshni continues, “I was trapped and helpless. I was beaten with a ladle when I refused to work as a prostitute. I told them that my father would kill me if I got into this profession. The lady there said that she had paid for me and so I can’t refuse. I would often think of my children and cry and would again get beaten up for that”. She shows the marks of injury on her hands.

Events took a sharp turn around end September when a local shopkeeper near the brothel sympathized with her plight. He offered to connect her to her brother through some people he knew in her village. Soon Roshni was in touch with Nadim through the shopkeeper’s mobile phone. She says, “Suddenly I saw some hope. I tried to keep my eyes and ears open and give my brother an idea of my whereabouts”

Nadim adds on “First she said that that there was a police booth nearby. The next time she said that two girls had been rescued. I passed on this information to the police officers who were dealing with the case.” With the help of this information and the internet, the West Bengal police pieced the evidence together, pinpointed Roshni’s exact location and finally came to Delhi with Nadim and his mother. They got in touch with the local police station. On 6th October, the local police and Shakti Vahini, an NGO that works on human trafficking, rescued Roshni from the brothel.

Roshni stayed at a women’s shelter home, while the paperwork in the police station was being completed. She was then picked up by her family and the West Bengal Police. They all left for their home on 8th October. In the interim, the counselors at Shakti Vahini provided her counseling. Shakti Vahini, through its network of NGOs in West Bengal, will provide her financial and legal support. While Roshni feels relieved to be rescued from the brothel, she also is worried about going back and facing her husband and in-laws. Nadim concludes by saying, “I have not been able to earn any money over the past two and a half months. We have sold our land and our belongings to come here. Today I am happy that I have finally found my sister. Nothing else matters”.

Roshni is one of the few miraculous cases of escape, where luck and the vigilance of people came to her rescue. While she can probably look forward to a different life, there are numerous men, women and children across the globe, who are victims of human trafficking with no hope for the future. Many more are still vulnerable to being trafficked. The reasons for this are many – poverty and inequity, gender discrimination, lack of appropriate legislation and political will, restrictive immigration policies, globalization of the sex industry, and the involvement of transnational organized criminal networks.

As member states gather this week at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols at the UNODC Headquarters in Vienna, it serves as an urgent reminder for the global community to act in solidarity against this crime to ensure a world that is safer for millions like Roshni.

Shakti Vahini helps in the rescue and rehabilitation of survivors of human trafficking. They partner with non governmental organizations and the Government of India to highlight and address issues on human trafficking and HIV/AIDS. They are an active partner of the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT).

Rajasthan becomes first state to take on khaps


New Delhi, October 18

When most states are disturbingly silent on the role of caste panchayats in honour crimes, Rajasthan has turned a new leaf by slamming the same and saying it won’t tolerate unwarranted diktats coming from khap panchayats.

Becoming the first state (among nine) to reply to the Supreme Court notice of June 30 on measures being taken to check caste groupings allegedly involved in honour killings, Rajasthan has said it will book khap panchayat perpetrators of such crimes under the National Security Law and Gunda Act (which includes offences against the human body like murder, criminal intimidation and insult) and will strip them of government facilities.

For this purpose, it has asked the police officials to prepare a record of khap panches found committing illegal acts. “A list of such persons (panches) will be sent to the district administration to put them in the black list and deprive them of all government facilities,” the state has said. The admission forms part of the affidavit which Rajasthan filed this September 21 following the apex court’s June notices to nine states, including Punjab, Haryana, UP, Delhi, WB, Jharkhand and MP, in the Shakti Vahini case on honour killings. The states like Punjab, Haryana, UP and Delhi which account for 96 per cent of the reported honour crimes in India have not yet replied to the notice. Of the 121 honour killings in the past two years, UP recorded 48, Haryana 41 and Delhi 15.

Rajasthan is the first state to admit that caste panchayats tend to perpetrate honour crimes. “We have taken a stringent view about the matter in which certain groups styled as socially sanctioned denominations tend to perpetrate these crimes. India is governed by the rule of law and no denomination can claim any legitimate right flowing out of customs which infringes the law,” states the affidavit The Tribune has procured.

The state government has directed every SHO to immediately register FIRs and even detain the perpetrators under the National Security Act of 1980, which allows a deputy commissioner or a commissioner of police to order such detention in the interest of public order.

Rajasthan has also, for the first time, defined honour crime; it would constitute financial, physical punishment; torture or harassment of women or causing any harm to the respect of a woman; nullifying relations that have come to exist between a man and a woman after they have married; exiling any person or family from a village; damaging movable or immovable property of families of couples involved.

“If the police receive information about a khap panchayat torturing a couple from sources other than official, top echelons of the district would be held responsible,” the landmark affidavit states, serving an example to states like Haryana which have so far defended caste panchayats as centuries-old groups with charitable intentions.

Tackling khaps – Rajasthan shows the way


KHAP panchayats have the blood of many innocent victims on their hands. They have exiled boys and girls who married in the same gotra or out of caste or religion. They have ordered the social boycott of the families of such lovers and have even ordered, aided and abetted their “honour killings”. Yet they have never been reined in effectively because politicians see them as dependable vote banks. States like Haryana have even gone to the extent of condoning all that the khaps did and defending them as centuries-old groups which play a charitable role. In this bleak scenario, the lead taken by Rajasthan is worth emulating. It has become the first of the nine states to reply to the Supreme Court as to what measures it proposes to take to curb the khap menace. It has said in no uncertain terms that it won’t tolerate any unwarranted diktats coming from khap panchayats.

The state government has directed every SHO to immediately register FIRs against the perpetrators and even detain them under the National Security Act of 1980. Not only that, its pathbreaking affidavit says that if the police receives information about the khap panchayat torturing a couple from sources other than official, top echelons of the district would be held responsible.

If a government really wants it, the menace of khaps can be easily curbed. It is all a question of displaying political will. But more than Rajasthan, it is states like Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi which have to show the necessary spine. After all, these account for nearly 96 per cent of the reported honour crimes in the country. Of the 121 honour killings in the past two years, as many as 48 took place in Uttar Pradesh and 41 in Haryana. It is high time they acknowledged that khap panchayats are extra-constitutional groupings which have no place in a civilised society and need to be hounded out ruthlessly.



A recent Supreme Court ruling states that a divorce granted by a village panchayat is not legal. But unless rural folk are made aware of their rights, they may continue to abide by such unlawful verdicts, says Shabina Akhtar

Soni Kumari, 22, of Bhujrobad village in Jharkhand was divorced before a gram panchayat a month before the recent Supreme Court ruling that a divorce granted by a panchayat had no legal standing.

She is just one among thousands of rural women in India who accept the verdict of the village panchayat when it comes to separation and divorce.

According to Krishan Murari Sharma, founder of IDEA, a non governmental organisation (NGO) working for women’s empowerment in Jharkhand, 99 per cent of marital disputes in rural India are sorted out before the village panchayat. “Rarely do we see villagers moving the courts or even going to the police station to file a case related to marital disputes. More often than not, both the parties opt to go to the village panchayat and get an out-of-court settlement. Only in the case of dowry deaths do girls’ parents lodge a first information report,” says Sharma.

He also adds that in general it is women who are at the receiving end of these panchayat verdicts. “If a man seeks a divorce, rarely does the panchayat give a verdict that goes in favour of the woman,” he says.

So will panchayats stop granting divorces now that the Supreme Court has ruled that such divorces have no legal sanction? Probably not, say experts. Says Supreme Court advocate Ravi Kant, who is also the president of Shakti Vahini, an NGO, “In north India, the panchayats are really strong and rural people go to them to get verdicts on issues related to rape, violence and marital disputes. Panchayats are so deep rooted in the social system that it will definitely take some time before people stop going to them and instead approach the courts to get a divorce.”

Sharma too agrees that it would take years for people, especially women, to become aware of their rights and take a case of marital dispute to the courts rather than to the gram panchayat.

Of course, there are some women who refuse to take an unfair panchayat verdict lying down. Sheela Devi, a school teacher, had married Mahendra Nath Yadav in 1990, but owing to the nature of Yadav’s job the couple couldn’t lead a normal married life. This eventually led to the dissolution of her marriage both before a village panchayat and then a family court in Allahabad. But when Sheela Devi asked for maintenance, Yadav was quick to approach the Allahabad High Court to get a stay. But instead, the high court ruled that the divorce granted by the panchayat was not legal.

Subsequently, Yadav approached the apex court, only to be told that the high court verdict was apt and that a divorce granted by a panchayat was indeed not legal. It said that the dissolution of marriage through panchayats in accordance with the custom prevailing in the area cannot be a ground for granting divorce under Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

Experts say that though such “illegal” divorces are routinely handed out by panchayats, there are no reliable statistics to indicate just how widespread the practice is. “Despite the fact that such divorces are rampant in rural India, no statistical data is available on the number of these cases,” says Kaushik Gupta, a Calcutta High Court advocate who specialises in marital disputes. “Since panchayat rulings on marital issues are not recognised by law, the government has no data related to such rulings,” he adds. Gupta, though, maintains that such divorces are not so popular in West Bengal.

But what of the recent verdict of a kangaroo court in Murshidabad that forced a married woman to do sit-ups holding her ears and decreed that her divorce was not valid? The court chose to ignore her divorce certificate that had been issued by a qazi (who is empowered under the Muslim Personal Law to grant a divorce). Not only did it thus ridicule her in public, it also decreed that her present husband would have to leave the village and pay a fine of Rs 8,000.

Going by the recent Supreme Court verdict, are not such panchayat rulings illegal? Certainly they are, admits Gupta. “The apex court verdict is applicable to each and every citizen of India. And that means that divorce granted by anybody not authorised by the government will be considered illegal. In the case of Muslims, it’s the qazi who has been entrusted with the right to grant divorce and not the panchayats,” he says.

Needless to say, most activists and legal experts have welcomed the Supreme Court judgment. Says Calcutta High Court advocate Protik Prokash Banerji, “The ruling makes it clear that the dissolution of marriage by panchayats is illegal.” Adds Ravi Kant, “The verdict makes the point that panchayats annulling marriages is not legal. In a way it empowers NGOs to bring cases of panchayats granting divorce to the notice of the Supreme Court.”

However, there is no denying the fact that this is one judgment that will be hard to implement on the ground. “The SC ruling can only be effective if the executive enforces it across India,” says Gupta.

Will that happen? Time, as they say, will tell.

Dark underbelly of Games




50 pc surge in minor girls’ trafficking for prostitution; 121 rescued in past 2 months

Aditi Tandon

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 9

While Delhi was being dolled up ahead of the Commonwealth Games, red-light areas were also busy planning to welcome the visitors and tourists. Investigations by The Tribune reveal that trafficking of girls, especially minors, has risen considerably in the past two months. Most children are being brought in through fraudulent placement agencies for domestic work and used for commercial sex in rented residences in semi-posh Delhi localities, including East of Kailsah, Kalkaji, Govindpuri Extension and Tuglakabad Extension. Over 121 girls have been rescued from traffickers from New and Old Delhi Railway Stations alone in the past two months. This number, as per documented data with registered anti-trafficking NGOs, was much lower in the past two years until August 2010.

Police records of these rescued girls show they worked as sex slaves, fetching for their “masters” anywhere between Rs 1,000 and Rs 30,000 an hour. Records of Shakti Vahini, active in the GB Road red-light area, alone confirm 75 rescues of minors in past two months. “Of these girls, 50 per cent were rescued from forced sex. There’s a definite surge, around 50 per cent, in trafficking,” says Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini. In 30 cases, the FIRs have been lodged for kidnapping and rape.

Another NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) last month detected 39 minors trafficked from MP on Paschim Express which halted at Nizamuddin train station. “This is shocking. There is a whole sex business going on around the Games. Trafficking in the past five years has never been so high despite regular surveillance of the police and anti-traffickers at destination points,” Rakesh Sanger, national secretary of BBA admits.

Call details of Childline India’s five Delhi helplines tell a similar story. Of the 432 trafficking complaints recorded in the past one year, 70 pc came in the past three months. “This surge is unprecedented and marks an eight-fold increase from the previous years. Ahead of CWG, we have also observed frenetic activity of traffickers not just in the GB Road area but also around railway stations.” Sumit Kumar of Childline says.

Analysis of trafficked cases reveals 90 per cent of the rescues happened on Jharkhand Sampark Kranti, Northeast Express, Brahmaputra Mail and Awadh Assam Express, and most girls came from West Bengal, Jharkhand, Assam and Bihar. This despite the Home Ministry’s “Advisory for Prevention and Combat of Human Trafficking during the CWG” issued to Bengal, MP, Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, UP and New Delhi on September 10.

Case histories of trafficked girls indicate that they were being sourced for jobs in the name of the Games, a fact revealed by the MHA advisory, which says: “Certain fraudulent placement agencies, involved in trafficking, were promising jobs to young girls in the Capital ahead of the Games. Minor girls are the main targets. Some are even injected with oxytocin to attain puberty at a younger age.”

In 30 per cent cases, where minors were sold for sex, they were first put in homes. A 13-year-old girl from Mumbai was rescued on August 3. She was brought to Delhi through a Shakarpur-based placement agency by an agent named Pappu, who first sent her to work in Punjabi Bagh, then tried to sell her for prostitution. He is under arrest. “We have conducted unprecedented number of rescues in recent days,” admits Surinderjit Kaur, SHO, Kamla Market police station, which covers GB Road. Along the GB Road, condom sales have also risen sharply. Where the Delhi AIDS Control Society provides four lakh a month, it is now supplying six lakh.

(Names of the girls have been changed to protect identity)

(To be concluded)

Girls lured to Games for work sold to brothels


  • EXCLUSIVE: Amanda Hodge, South Asia correspondent
  • September 30, 2010

CHILD sex-trafficking has become the latest scourge of the Commonwealth Games.

There are reports of an alarming rise in the number of under-aged girls being lured to Delhi for work, only to be sold into prostitution. The Indian Home Ministry issued an alert this month expressing “deep concern” at increasing reports that girls from some of India‘s poorest tribal states, such as West Bengal, Orissa and Jharkhand, were being lured to Delhi with false promises of work at the Commonwealth Games. The departmental advisory, issued to seven state governments and obtained by The Australian, says: “The victims are mostly those who are promised work in Delhi ahead of the Commonwealth Games by fraudulent placement agencies but instead are likely to be trafficked. Minor girls are the main target. Strict action is urgently required against those involved in such trafficking, both in the source, transit and destination areas.”

Hundreds of young girls from poverty-stricken rural states are believed to have been successfully trafficked into the city’s burgeoning number of brothels, massage parlours and escort agencies.

Kailash Pathak fears his daughter is among them.

The Australian accompanied the frantic father from rural West Bengal this week as he searched seedy GB Road red-light-district brothels for any sign of 13-year-old Khushbu, while the trafficker who confessed to taking his daughter but denied she left against her will, languished in a police cell 200m away. Known as Pappu Bagel, he confessed to The Australian that he had accompanied Khushbu out of the state, but said she had gone willingly. He no longer knew where she was. Mr Pathak said he had tracked down and reported to police Pappu Bagel, who had been visiting a neighbour in his West Bengal village and had left at the time his daughter disappeared. “I rang him and said, ‘Have you taken my girl?’ And he said, ‘What if I have? What can you do about it?’

“I am absolutely helpless. I have no clue about how she’s being kept, what has been done to her. I have been on the (police) search team from one corner to the other and she’s not here.” Delhi’s illegal but thriving prostitution racket has been gearing up for several months for the Commonwealth Games. Several establishments have reportedly been running basic English classes for their workers and renovating premises for foreign visitors.

Inside one GB Road brothel, The Australian saw a large flat-screen television fitted to the wall. “It’s so we can watch the Commonwealth Games,”a middle-aged female worker explained as two men worked on renovations in one of the adjacent tiled and toilet-sized rooms in which women ply their trade.

The woman said she had no under-aged workers in the brothel and did not tolerate traffickers peddling young girls.

Outside another nearby brothel, where a 16-year-old girl trafficked from Nepal was rescued by police just two days earlier, The Australian counted more than 100 men in the space of just 10 minutes descending the dingy, narrow stairs in packs of 20 or more.

One exiting client said the brothel had been renovated and was “first-class”.

Delhi police have raided a number of the city’s notorious GB Road red-light district in recent weeks. Under-aged girls from poor Indian states and as far away as Nepal – a notorious trafficking source country – have been placed under government care until they can be repatriated. A police superintendent from one inner-city district said about 80 young girls had been seized from brothels and traffickers in the past six months. Last month, Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram called a meeting of police and officials from the tourism, labour and women’s ministries on the rise in trafficking – for prostitution and forced labour – before India’s largest sporting event.

Nishi Kant, from Delhi-based anti-trafficking network Shakhti Vahini, said his organisation had rescued 54 under-aged girls from the red-light district and the nearby New Delhi railway station in the past six weeks. “The traffickers tell the girls and their families that they can get them good jobs in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games, but once they land here they’re trafficked to various suburbs of Delhi and forced into prostitution,” he said.

“The Commonwealth Games has become a disaster in the context of child-trafficking because we’re seeing a clear rise in the number of cases.

“The poverty in these rural states makes them so vulnerable to trafficking of children. Everybody thinks that if you come to Delhi you will get a job, and these Games are rubbing salt in the wound.” A spokeswoman for anti-trafficking organisation Apne Aap said there had been a huge rise in the number of classified ads in the weekend papers for brothels, escorts and massage parlours, compared with last year.