Modern-day slavery persists the world over

NEW DELHI — When Savita Debnath was 14, two unknown men came to her impoverished village in eastern India, promising her a job cleaning houses for $40 a month in nearby Kolkata. When she got there, agents forced her onto a train to New Delhi and sold her.

The buyers were a family that abused her and forced her to work long days cooking, cleaning, caring for two young children and preparing for parties without pay or being allowed to contact her family.

“I worked from 6 a.m. until midnight or 1 a.m.,” said Savita, now 15 and freed from her bondage. “When a dish burned, she slapped me many times. I’d cry for my mother, but the mistress ignored me.”

A report released Thursday by Australia’s Walk Free Foundation suggests that Savita’s story is a common one, not just in India but worldwide. The 162-nation survey estimated that there are 29.8 million modern-day slaves, and that bondage in some form exists in most countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan and Western European nations.

Although other countries have a greater proportion of their population in bondage, India has by far the largest number, an estimated 13.9 million people. That is more than four times that of the No. 2 country, China, with 2.9 million. Pakistan ranked third, with 2.1 million.

Mauritania and Haiti had the highest percentage of the population in bondage, 4% and 2%, respectively.

Modern slavery, the report says, “takes many forms, and is known by many names. Whether it is called human trafficking, forced labor, slavery or slavery-like practices … victims of modern slavery have their freedom denied, and are used and controlled and exploited by another person for profit, sex or the thrill of domination.”

In India, much of the traffic in enslaved domestic workers is organized by dubious employment agencies that are virtually unregulated despite a court order requiring the government to set operating guidelines.

“The placement agencies get all the money, and the poor girl gets nothing,” said Rishi Kant, a social activist with Shakti Vahini, the New Delhi-based civic group that rescued Savita. “The girls are abused — mentally, sexually, physically. Officials don’t care, and sometimes even want maids for their own houses, [which is] partly why they’re silent on this.”

Nick Grono, Walk Free’s chief executive, said by phone that modern-day slavery in India includes children forced into marriages, entire lower-caste communities forced to work in brick kilns or quarries, and people lured by money lenders to assume debts that can last for generations.

In the case of enslaved domestic workers, middle- and upper-class families often happily pay as little as $33 a month to disreputable agents for 24/7 help, rather than paying the minimum wage of $125 a month and following other labor laws. The agents often ensure that ties are cut between girls — as young as 10 — and their families in rural villages. The girls’ isolation is made worse because they often speak no Hindi, fear the police and are penniless, leaving them little way out of their plight.

“The family is duped, left thinking one day she’ll come back with some money,” Kant said. “And many employing the girls in Delhi are rich, powerful families, so authorities don’t enforce the law.”

There are signs of progress, said Shalini Grover, an analyst with New Delhi’s Institute of Economic Growth, noting a increase in the number of part-time domestic workers who live outside their employers’ homes, giving them greater economic leverage and control over their lives.

In terms of percentage of people in slavery, India is fourth on Walk Free’s list. In Mauritania, which ranks first, one nongovernmental organization has estimated that as much as 20% of the population is enslaved, although Walk Free uses the more conservative figure of 4%. Slavery in Mauritania goes back generations and is deeply entrenched, although the country has banned the practice and signed international conventions against slavery and child labor.

“Indoctrination to ensure people in slavery accept their situation of ownership is a key feature of slavery in Mauritania,” Walk Free’s Global Slavery Index report says. “Without access to education or alternative means of subsistence, many believe that it is God’s wish for them to be slaves.”

At the other extreme, Iceland is estimated to have 100 slaves amid its population of 320,000. The United States ranks 134th, with an estimated 60,000 people in bondage.

The rankings are based on a compilation of government statistics, multilateral agency information, NGO studies and Walk Free’s surveys. The organization provided drafts to all 162 countries six months ago, but for the most part, only developed countries responded, with largely positive or neutral responses. Walk Free hopes to continue refining the data.

Walk Free acknowledged the difficulties in compiling and refining data for the survey, its first, but said it hoped the index would widen the discussion about reducing modern-day slavery.

“Our data is the best out there, but it’s a moving feast,” Grono said. “You have to be an optimist in this industry, otherwise you’d slit your throat.”

Magnier reported from New Delhi and Dixon from Johannesburg, South Africa. Tanvi Sharma in The Times’ New Delhi bureau contributed to this report.

Human trafficking: Six minors, youth sold off to contractors in Tamil Nadu


JASHPUR: An incident of human trafficking involving six minors and a 24-year-old-youth has come to light in Jashpur district of Chhattisgarh. All seven victims belong to primitive Pahadi Korwa tribe and were sold off to contractors in Tamil Nadu by four locals on pretext of providing employment.

The incident was revealed after one of the seven victims, 24-year-old Nandkishore Nageshiya escaped from the clutches of the contractor and ran back home. The matter was reported to the police on Friday.

Talking to TOI, Jashpur superintendent of police Jitendra Singh Mina said that an FIR against all four was registered on Saturday and a police team has been formed to visit Tamil Nadu to rescue the minors.

The incident took place on September 20, when four accused of Duldula block of Jashpur district identified as Krishna Ram Basod, his wife Jatri Bai, Jaimangal Ram and Ajay Ram zeroed in on these seven victims belonging to poor families and convinced them to work as laboureres in road construction work at Kunkuri block.

Duldula police station inspector in charge, B L Kurre said, “The four accused took the youths to Jharsuguda in Odisha for some petty works. Before travelling to Tamil Nadu, they promised their families that they would be paid Rs 7000 per month with food. But, as per the information, the youths were sold off to a contractor who forced them to work at bore-well sites at different places in Tamil Nadu”.

In his statement, Nandkishore told the police that the other six minors Surlan Ram Korwa, 15, Bhintu Ram Korwa, 13, Rammurat Korwa, 14, Chandar Ram Korwa, 16, Ravindra Korwa, 14, Baleshwar Korwa, 13 and Mahavir Korwa, 17 were promised good salary and were taken to Tamil Nadu. A few days after their arrival, the locals sold them off to a contractor who forced them to work at a bore-well construction site. They were also denied proper food and had to work for long, without being paid.

“They had promised Nand kishore, a driver’s job but were later asked to load heavy pipes on the back. Also, the four brokers left the place soon,” police said. Nandkishore said that he had to sell off his belongings get a ticket back home, as he had no money.

Police said that the main accused Krishnaram and his wife have previous criminal record of being indulged in similar incidents. They target poor and illiterate families who easily get convinced.

Jashpur is infamous for reporting trafficking incidents. Several incidents of youths being trafficked to states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have been reported in the past.

Had Nand kishore not returned and had he not narrated the story to the police, all the six minors would be getting exploited with no one to rescue them. Jashpur has many such stories and cases where children, minors and youths are taken to different parts of country for several kinds of illegal work or to work as labourers in conditions akin to bonded labour system.


J’khand help’s death: Police fail to locate couple who hired her

Trafficked Victim KilledINDIAN EXPRESS

A Lohardaga police team has been unable to locate restaurateur Anil Ahuja and wife Sharda Ahuja, employers of 16-year-old Phoolmani Nagesia. Phoolmani, who had been working for the couple as a domestic help at their residence in Kaushambi, Ghaziabad, was found hanging on June 19.

“We went to their house in Ghaziabad, but it was locked. Since they are absconding, we will initiate proceedings to seize the property,” said an official in the investigating team.

Madan Kumar Sahu, who works with NGO Sahiya, said Anil Ahuja had called Phoolmani’s uncle a day after the arrest warrant was taken out. “He has been calling her mother continuously, asking her to meet them in Delhi to talk about money. After the last call, I ensured a complaint was registered about this,” he said.

A team from Kisko police station, had earlier arrested two people from NCR. “Batti Orain alias Satya is a broker who finds these girls. Santosh Choudhary is the head of the agency which sent Phoolmani to her employer,” SP Sunil Bhaskar said. Anil Ahuja is listed as a ‘client’ in the agency’s records, police said.

Polcie said Phoolmani’s body was found hanging at 8.30 pm by members of the Ahuja household. “Police was only informed at 3 am, by which time the body had been lowered. An autopsy was conducted the next day in the absence of the girl’s legal guardian,” Rishi Kant, member of NGO Shakti Vahini, who filed the July 9 complaint with the NCPCR, said.

Police handed Phoolmani’s body to Anil Ahuja, who passed it on to Santosh, the head of the placement agency. The Ghaziabad police did not inform their counterparts in Lohardaga. IG Anurag Gupta of the Jharkhand police emailed NGO Shakti Vahini after he received a complaint from Phoolmani’s mother.

Phoolmani had been hired in July 2012 for Rs 3,000 per month.

Maid rescue: Employer denied bail, to be counselled in jail


NEW DELHI: A 50-year-old woman, arrested for allegedly assaulting and illegally confining a maid in her house here, was today denied bail by a Delhi court which said a legislation for regulating placement agencies through which domestic help is recruited is “much needed”.

 Metropolitan magistrate Gomati Manocha dismissed the bail plea of accused Vandana Dhir and said it seems she is “suffering from some kind of a personality disorder” and the facts of the case demonstrate “very sick and problematic mental state of the accused.”

The court directed the jail authorities to provide “psycho analysis therapy and counselling” to Dhir, who is at present in judicial custody.

Dhir and placement agent Dorothy have been arrested in connection with the case lodged under various sections of the IPC, the Bonded Labour Act, the SC/ST Act and under the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (care and protection of children) Act.

Both are at present in judicial custody. While denying bail to Dhir, the magistrate observed, “The placement agencies existing today have become havens of exploitation and are unable to ensure the well being of the work force employed through them and many of these young boys and girls become the subject of physical and sexual abuse.

“…To bring about a positive change so that such incidents do not recur and also to protect basic human right of this large but marginalised and exploited work force, a legislation is much needed requiring mandatory registration of placement agencies, payment of minimum wages to workers, decent living conditions and diet, security and protection against physical or sexual abuse or exploitation.”

The court also directed that the copy of its order be sent to secretary, ministry of law and justice, government of India and also to the secretary of department of law, justice and legal affairs of Delhi government for consideration.

The magistrate, in her order, also observed that the legislation should ensure that no minors are employed as domestic maids.

“Thus, rather than curbing such employment opportunities altogether, these is a dire necessity of a legislation regulating functioning of these placement agencies and of an institutionalised system protecting the interests of both the employers and the employees. This shall also ensure that no underage (minor) boys and girls get employed as domestic helps,” the court observed.

Regarding Dhir, who was working with a multinational firm in Noida, the court said, “She has exhibited through her actions such monstrosity incapable of being explained as a conduct of a normal human being.”

“She seems to be suffering from some kind of a personality disorder which leads to impulsive reactions, rage, resentment, aggression and venting it out on a weak and helpless target.

“Sooner or later, the accused would come out of the jail. But before that, it is necessary that she receives proper psychological help so that when she comes out, she is emotionally more stable,” it said.

The court, while dismissing Dhir’s bail plea, lend credence to the statement of the victim recorded by a magistrate in which she had narrated the alleged torture meted out to her Dhir.

It also rejected the submissions of Dhir’s counsel that the girl was mentally unsound and said the statement given by the girl before the magistrate and the statement of the doctor, who had earlier treated the girl, strengthen the prosecution’s case.

“The investigation done so far only supports the version of the victim. The version of the accused that the victim is mentally unsound or that the injuries on her person are self inflicted has been completely demolished by the statement of the doctor under section 161 CrPC (recording of statement by police),” the magistrate said.

The court also said that Dhir deserved no leniency as she had allegedly treated the girl in a “gruesome and dastardly manner.”

“Further the position of the victim is socially and economically very weak and vulnerable as compared to that of the accused. Thus it is important to rule out any chance of tampering with the evidence or of influencing the witnesses by the accused,” it said.

Earlier, the court had directed the police to probe the condition of other girls who could have been employed through the placement agency run by co-accused Dorothy.

The victim, a resident of Jharkhand, was rescued from Dhir’s Vasant Kunj home where she had been working as a domestic help and was admitted to Safdarjung Hospital with injuries.

The girl was rescued by a joint team of NGO Shakti Vahini and Delhi Police from Dhir’s residence on the evening of September 30.