Maid’s story of torture shines light on India slave labour

Maid’s story of torture shines light on India slave labour

NEW DELHI - Sitting on a hospital bed with a thick bandage around her head, an Indian teenager recounts what she says was four months of horrific torture at the hands of her employer.

"She would pull my hair out, violently hit me over the head... most of the times she got angry out of the blue," the 18-year-old told AFP, as she recovered in a New Delhi hospital.

The girl says she was beaten with belts, brooms and chains while locked in the home where she was hired to work as a maid in an upscale neighbourhood in the capital.

"She wouldn't give me any money, make any phone calls, interact with anyone. She ripped all my papers that had phone numbers (of her relatives) into bits," said the girl, whose left cheek and chest are covered in scars.

Her story made headlines this month after she was rescued by police and social rights campaigners who said she had been slashed with knives and bitten by dogs.

The case is far from unique in a country home to almost half of the world's slave population. A report released this week called the Global Slavery Index found an estimated 13.95 million people in India are victims of forced labour.

"People are controlled by violence," said Nick Grono, chief executive of the Walk Free Foundation, which published the report.

"They are tricked or they are forced into jobs or situations where they are economically exploited. They live on no pay or base subsistence pay and they're not free to leave."

The girl, who only completed three years of school, came to the teeming capital from the impoverished eastern state of Jharkhand searching for work to send money back home.

The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, worked in several homes before a maid agency placed her with her current employer, who was arrested and has denied charges of abuse. The case is still before the courts.

In India, mainly women are trafficked, coerced or tricked into different forms of slavery ranging from domestic service to prostitution and forced marriages. Desperately poor parents also sell their children, who are then forced into begging rackets, sexual exploitation and manual labour such as working in coal mines, according to other experts.

Still more are kidnapped and brought to Delhi, according to the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC).

"Delhi is a destination and transit point for victims" trafficked from throughout India as well as neighbouring Nepal and Bangladesh, a UNDOC report released in July said.

The report warned that trafficking in the capital, in particular, was worsening, with criminal gangs expanding their operations by disguising them as businesses such as placement agencies and massage parlours.

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