The recent arrest of three persons in connection with a human trafficking racket in Central Delhi has once again highlighted the proliferation of illegal placement agencies in the National Capital Region. Despite the executive order passed by the Delhi High Court in 2014, which mandated the Delhi government to register the private placement agencies providing domestic helps, over 10,000 illegal and unregistered firms are thriving with impunity. As a result, Delhi has become a hotbed for human trafficking in terms of bonded labour and sexual exploitation.

Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, experts said these firms are not only exploiting domestic helps—women mostly from the underdeveloped areas of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam, and Odisha—but are also duping employers by charging hefty registration fees. They further attributed the systematic exploitation of the domestic helps to the strong nexus of the placement agencies with implementation agencies like the labour department, absence of proper legislation, lack of monitoring mechanism, and reluctance of the employers to be involved in the police verification process of the domestic helps. 

“These agencies have developed a powerful lobby. The courts have been giving progressive orders but they have not been implemented on the ground. There needs to be a proper legislation to safeguard these girls, women, and children,” said Annie Raja, general secretary, National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW).

Systematic exploitation

The Sunday Guardian has learnt that these placement agencies have deep networks in the villages. A local agent from the village targets girls and children in the age group of 13-18 years and brings them to Delhi by paying their families some token amount. Experts claim that this network ensures the isolation of these women from vulnerable backgrounds, so that they are left with no escape route and support system. There have been innumerable cases of these girls and children working as bonded labourers.

“The entire system of domestic work functions in a feudal manner, where workers are prevented from exercising their rights,” said Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA).

The Delhi Private Placement Agencies (Regulation) Order 2014 had mandated the registration of the private agencies in Delhi under the Shops and Establishment Act. According to the order, all domestic workers were to be registered online, and all payments to the workers had to be made directly in their bank accounts.

These agencies collect the monthly salaries of these domestic helps from the employers directly and falsely claim that the money will be deposited in the maids’ bank accounts. However, they retain the payments and after the completion of the 11-month contract they force the women to get into another contract and if they refuse they are denied their money. 

“These girls are not paid for years. My maid once told me that she worked at a place for four years and was never paid. She was falsely told that agencywasdepositing the money in her account. She was later rescued by Chetanalaya,” said Raja.

Even the employers are duped as these agencies charge them a hefty registration amount, wrongly claiming that a part of it will be used to ensure health and other benefits to the maids. Experts believe that the direct involvement of the employers in the police verification of the domestic helps they hire is the first step to contain such exploitation.

Organised racket

Experts said the placement agencies are running an organised racket right under the nose of the authorities. Areas like Shakur Basti, Laxminagar, Kotla Mubarakpur and Tughlaqabad extension are the major hubs of these placement agencies from where the girls are supplied to work as domestic helps, and also allegedly trafficked to Mahipalpur, Jalandhar, Mumbai, Srinagar, and Goa for sex trade.

“Only 1,650 agencies have been registered under the Shop and Establishment Act. In reality, there are thousands of these illegal placement agencies running a deep network in the city,” Rakesh Sengar of Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation told The Sunday Guardian.

The Sunday Guardian’s investigation in Kotla Mubarakpur, Chittaranjan Park, and Govindpuri Extension area of Delhi revealed that most of these agencies either do not have any boards or have wrong boards. Similar observation has been made by Rakesh Sengar during the several raids that he has conducted with the police to rescue the girls.

“It is true that they either have wrong boards or no boards at all. Interestingly, many placement agencies run as NGOs or trade unions but their basic work is to traffic girls and women. For instance, Birsa Munda Samajik Kalyan Sansthan, whose owner Panna Lal Mahto is currently in prison, was involved in human trafficking under the veil of running an NGO,” Sengar alleged.

Experts have further alleged that the Delhi Labour Department is in full awareness of this “centralised trafficking racket” but is reluctant to act.

“They (labour inspectors) have fixed commission in these agencies and in return of that they provide them immunity,” alleged Anita Juneja of the Delhi Gharelu Kamgaar Sangathan.

A placement agency owner, who requested anonymity, alleged that some corrupt policemen and some in the Labour Department often demanded money and would threaten to shut them down if they refused.

Sengar noted that in many cases when his NGO tried to conduct a raid with the help of the Labor Department on the identified illegal placement agency, more often than not the information about the raid reached them before the actual raid.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, the Union government announced its intent to formulate a national policy to give legal status to domestic workers.

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