Many women migrate from their villages to work as domestic workers. This migration takes two forms:
• rural to urban, and
• from India to a labour-receiving foreign country.
Whether the domestic worker remains in India or travels to the Middle East or Southeast Asia, she finds herself in a foreign environment, away from her family and adjusting to new languages, food, and cultures. Migrants are typically live-in domestic workers and are thus most vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse, excessively long working hours, and deprivation. Many of them are from tribal regions and the traditional discrimination they face as women and as live in domestic workers is compounded by their ethnicity. Despite these problems, poor women continue to migrate to cities and foreign countries as a way to supplement their families’ meagre incomes.
Increasingly, “trafficking agencies” have become a very significant factor in encouraging internal migration. In the arena of domestic work, organised trafficking is taking place as villagers living in the cities are returning to their native places to bring more women, girls and children into this labour sector. In Delhi alone there over and above hundreds of agencies which sell domestic workers. This points to the well-organised nature of the entire racket. Once the girls arrive in the cities, their wages are typically locked or they go unpaid in order to pay the traffickers a fee for securing employment.
If the girls decide to migrate on their own, they are still in danger of falling into the clutches of agents. In Delhi, scores of recruiting agents wait at the train stations for the girls to arrive from the villages. They either employ the girls directly or they hand them to local agents for a commission. The girls are often locked in a dark room without ventilation until a job is found. These agents then take commissions from the girls and the employers. The girls find themselves in a situation of bonded labour. Some agents arrange with the employers that the girls’ salaries be paid to the agents. The money is then held for a year and deposited in the agents’ bank accounts, depriving the girl of her money and the opportunity to earn interest. They are forced to work under the recruiting agent, who does not follow up on the girls’ situations once jobs are secured.