Some of them work as bonded labourers - they do not get actual wages, no freedom of movement – they are not allowed to go-out, no minimum wages is paid, forced to work over 12 -16 hours a day, beaten up and some even undergo sexual exploitation. Only human beings can do it to a human being. The need and situation of person is well exploited!
A domestic servant, employed by a placement agency is paid hardly Rs 2000-3000 per month but an owner typically pays at least Rs 4000-5000 to the agency. Owing to this huge commission, the agents attract these labourers through an advance loan or with a lucrative job promise. Only after reaching a metro city and arriving at a labour facility they realize that they are trapped. Many of them undergo torture and sexual abuse but are left with no option than to continue working.
16-year-old Sangeeta has been working as a domestic maid in Delhi for the past three years. Originally, her parents had taken an advance of Rs 10,000 for her sister’s marriage. To pay off the debt, Sangeeta was to work for a year, but she continues to work under the pressure of loan giver. As a good steward, every month she sends Rs 1000-2000 home. The family she works for is more than happy to hold her back on the same hiring rate. Her parents receive around Rs 2000 per month, the middleman Rs 10,000 a year and the family an orderly or a bonded servant for peanuts!
If the law is implemented, Sangeeta’s employer will get a jail term of five to seven years and the placement agent a punishment of 14 years. Even more, if the employer is a police officer or a public servant s/he will get a life term sentence.
Mr Khandaswamy who had allegedly engaged a lot of bonded labourers at his brick kiln on being booked by the local police challenged the crowd saying, “I will come back by the rising of the court.” As per the Bonded Labour Act, the culprits may be imprisoned for three years, but the conviction rate has been very low in India. Most of the perpetrators like him go scot-free for want of evidence and proper follow ups.
According to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) global estimate as per 2012, nearly 21 million people are victims of forced labour across the world. They are trapped in jobs into which they were coerced or deceived and from which they cannot leave. The Asia-Pacific region accounts for the largest number of forced labourers in the world – 11.7 million (56 per cent) of the global total, followed by Africa at 3.7 million (18 per cent) and Latin America with 1.8 million victims (9 per cent).
As per the International definition, forced labour is a situation in which the persons involved – women and men, girls and boys – are made to work against their free will, coerced by their recruiter or employer, potentially through violence or threats of violence, or also by more subtle means such as accumulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities. Such situations can also amount to human trafficking or slavery-like practices, which are similar terms in a legal sense. International law stipulates that exacting forced labour is a crime, and should be punishable through penalties which reflect the gravity of the offence.
In India, the trafficking of arms, drugs and human beings is a common phenomenon. Human trafficking is carried out mainly for sex, labour or for organs. The labour could be engaged for domestic, field or commercial purposes. Most of the domestic servants are provided through the agencies and middleman. The business of providing such labour force in the form of maids, security guards, skilled and unskilled workers is flourishing in the developing metros and sub-metros. The huge demand for domestic workers is one of the most important factors encouraging the trafficking of women and children.
The recent Justice JS Verma panel report has taken a dim view of law enforcement agencies ignoring or suppressing complaints of trafficking and recommends the government to bring laws in line with international standards. Once these recommendations are enacted as a law, the challenge will be to get it enforced.
Often trafficking of labourers thrives with the connivance of middlemen, local policemen and landlords having political connections. The racket or practice is profitable for employers, traffickers and law enforcers alike, enjoying a high level of social tolerance. Without ending this situation on the ground, acts against the trafficking of bonded labour or domestic servant hood, will remain ineffectual.
The law or ordinance is good and it is meaningful only if executed in true and right spirit. For instance, a death penalty or life imprisonment for someone in the Delhi gang rape case will send a strong message. Any judgment of rigorous imprisonment for a culprit will go a long way to abolish the trafficked labour system in India. Much more than the amended acts, a powerful execution and greater enforcement of the Law is what we need to ensure justice for all.
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