If I have the power…

… to enact a single law. What would it be?

Last month I read Rachna’s post (Seema’s agony). Through her story she has managed well to portray an almost every day experience in the life of many of the domestic helps across India. She writes about how domestic helps are being subjected to atrocities that affect them mentally as well physically. It is a common sight these days at restaurants and food joints that as the family enjoys a lavish meal, the help is made to wait outside with may be an infant or a toddler or many a times all alone by herself/himself. Isn’t this act delivering wrong signals to the future generations of the family? Would it not be better to leave that poor soul back home to feed herself/himself on whatever little he/she can at home rather than bringing them and insulting them like this? Honestly to me it is not an insult to them. It is an insult to the family that engages in this cheap act.

I particularly was concerned more about the minor children being employed as domestic helps; Child Abuse and Child Labour being the worst social crimes in my opinion.

Here are some of the stories I have heard myself from the girls that I have employed. And when they spoke about it I could feel the pain in their voice. Something that had happened to them when they were young children, but something that hurts them even now. Hearing these stories made me cry and feel angry at my helplessness to help them.

Meenakshi said:

“Didi, hum 11 saal ke the jab humko ek aurat bachhon waale school mein kaam ke liye le gayi. Hum khaana banate the 45 bachhe, 4 teacher log aur 3 aaya ke liye. Ek din do janon ke liye chaawal kam pad gaya and woh aurat humko loha ke sariye se maar maar ke hamara haath tod diya aur phir chulhe par haath jala diya.”


“I was employed by a lady who ran a play school when I was just 11 years old. She used to make me cook for the 45 children, 4 teachers and 3 aayas. One day rice was short for two people and she hit me with a huge iron rod fracturing my hand and then burnt my hand over the gas stove.”

She had an iron rod in her left hand with burn marks still clearly visible.

Another girl who was employed for a short while when Meenakshi went on leave told me this story which ran a chill down my spine.

Humko servant quarters mein rakha tha. Pehle hi din humko memsaab boli ki jaakar haath mooh dhokar aao. Hum quarter ke bathroom mein jaakar haath mooh dhokar kaam shuru kar diya. Agle din subah jab memsaab kaam par chali gayi thi tab hum dekhe saab TV par hamara bathroom ka video dekh raha tha. Hum ussi waqt wahaan se baagh nikle. Maa ko bole ki phir kabhi kaam par nahi jaenge, par maa boli kaam nahi karogi to roti kaise khaogi.


They kept me in servant quarters. First day the lady asked me to freshen up and come. I went to the bathroom and came back after freshening up and then started working. Next day when the lady went for her work I saw her husband watching my bathroom video. I ran away from there that time itself and told mother that I’ll not go to work. But mother said that if I don’t work how’ll I get my bread.”

She was about 13 then.

Then one of the recent ladies that I employed was speaking to the agent on the phone and I overheard this:

“Yahaan sab kuch achha hai. Khaane ki koi kami nahi hai. Didi kuch bhi lock karke nahi rakhti aur mujhe bola hai ki jo chahiye jitna chahiye khaa lena. Poochne ki bhi zaroorat nahi hai.”


“Everything’s good here. No restriction on food. Didi doesn’t lock up anything and has told me to eat anything and as much as I want. No need to ask too.”

She had a very bad experience with her previous employer who wouldn’t give her three proper meals.

child labour my slide

We have had full-time domestic helps since September 2009 and our first question to the agency/agent is whether they engage in child labour or not. Honestly many of them lie to you but do engage in child labour. The reasons are:

  • Poverty – These young children come from really poor backgrounds and are not aware of what child labour is or what their basic fundamental rights are. In short, they come for negligible wages.
  • Lack of Education – Their parents are uneducated and do not know what their child’s labour is worth. They are not even aware that engaging their children in economic activity is a punishable crime.
  • Unemployment – According to this TOI report, as per International Labour Organisation(ILO)’s latest estimate, the rate of unemployment in our country could be 3.8% this year. And trust me when I say that this estimate is based on the employment generation which is educated. It does not include the people from families below poverty line. Though I doubt whether that line is where it is supposed to be or is it consciously made to look better.
  • Ease of Procurement – Yes. I used ‘procurement’ as if these children are commodities. They are. Or rather they are considered as commodities only. You’ll realize that when you go to the ‘hostels’ provided to them till they fetch a ‘job opportunity’ in some bungalow in posh localities in the Metros. These hostel rooms are stingy, unhygienic and accommodate about 20-25 children per room, without proper sanitation or basic facilities and food. They don’t complain for they know they cannot go back to their houses without having earned something. This makes them more suitable for the agents.
  • Low resistance – Though with time, the domestic help market has boomed and many of the agencies are actually helping their candidates get better wages, there are many others which exploit them. The ‘customers’ too engage with the agents believing that the agent is trying to save their money by talking to them in private about the wages. I have personally witnessed this. On papers the salary of the maid was INR 5000 per month and the agent asks you to submit the money to him and not directly to the candidate else he/she will run away with the money. And the same agent then hands over just about 50%-60% of the amount to the candidate. He keeps the balance for himself even after taking a hefty one-time commission from you. Since these kids have no voice and resist less, they are easy prey for such predators.

I blame us for this. Child labour will not exist if you and I refuse to employ them or a product from a company that engages in child labour. What people don’t realize is the fact that just for saving money we will end up in a heinous crime which can result in many more violent crimes. Many of these children are also subjected to child abuse and mental harassment.

I have seen people subject children under the age of ten employed with them to severe punishment. I have wondered whether they would be alright if their children are subjected to similar or may be lesser punishment by their teachers or others.

India as a country needs a stricter law and severe punishment for people engaged in child labour or domestic help abuse.

“Article 24 of India’s constitution prohibits child labour. Additionally, various laws and the Indian Penal Code, such as the Juvenile Justice (care and protection) of Children Act-2000, and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Abolition) Act-1986 provide a basis in law to identify, prosecute and stop child labour in India.

After its independence from colonial rule, India has passed a number of constitutional protections and laws on child labour. The Constitution of India in the Fundamental Rights and the Directive of State Policy prohibits child labour below the age of 14 years in any factory or mine or castle or engaged in any other hazardous employment (Article 24). The constitution also envisioned that India shall, by 1960, provide infrastructure and resources for free and compulsory education to all children of the age six to 14 years. (Article 21-A and Article 45).

India has a federal form of government, and child labour is a matter on which both the central government and country governments can legislate, and have. The major national legislative developments include the following:

The Factories Act of 1948: The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory. The law also placed rules on who, when and how long can pre-adults aged 15–18 years be employed in any factory.

The Mines Act of 1952: The Act prohibits the employment of children below 18 years of age in a mine.

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986: The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in hazardous occupations identified in a list by the law. The list was expanded in 2006, and again in 2008.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act of 2000: This law made it a crime, punishable with a prison term, for anyone to procure or employ a child in any hazardous employment or in bondage.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009: The law mandates free and compulsory education to all children aged 6 to 14 years. This legislation also mandated that 25 percent of seats in every private school must be allocated for children from disadvantaged groups and physically challenged children.

India formulated a National Policy on Child Labour in 1987. This Policy seeks to adopt a gradual & sequential approach with a focus on rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations. It envisioned strict enforcement of Indian laws on child labour combined with development programs to address the root causes of child labour such as poverty. In 1988, this led to the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) initiative. This legal and development initiative continues, with a current central government funding of ₹ 6 billion, targeted solely to eliminate child labour in India.[32] Despite these efforts, child labour remains a major challenge for India.”

Information source: Wikipedia

More information on the laws and the punishments involved are available here.

The below link has the downloadable PDF documents of the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986, the Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933. Those of you interested can download and read for your reference.

Child & Women Labour – Ministry of Labour & Employment

This is one law I would like to enact and strengthen given a chance. The punishment must be so severe that no one dares to send their children for labour and no one dares to employ them. The government has been doing some good job in villages by providing free education, uniforms, books, food and bicycles to the children to make them attend school. I have personally witnessed it on a recent trip and blogged about it in my post: She’s a Small Town Girl. If only they are able to create more employment opportunities in villages and employ their parents, these tiny hands won’t have to struggle so hard and carry injury marks (both physical and mental) awarded ruthlessly to them by their employees.

I wonder what finally happened to the BSP MP Dhananjay Singh and his wife Jagriti Singh involved in the murder of their domestic help. Like most of the other high profile cases this too seems shut and closed by the media and the law and order officials.

After all, what difference will it make to India’s population of 1.237 billion if a small percentage of people who work as domestic helps die and vanish into thin air?


This post is part of the WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts program where the aim is to post at least once a day based on the prompts that they have provided. Today’s prompt is, “You’ve got the powerYou have the power to enact a single law. What would it be?

The author Rekha Dhyani is one of the contributors to the We Post Daily and blogs regularly at Dew Drops. She also shares her lucky clicks at The Crystal Trance


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31 Replies to “If I have the power…”

  1. We do have legislation on child labour. Unfortunately, the law is not implemented strictly. This is because:
    a. The authorities have not much to gain since children don’t form a vote bank.
    b. People break the child labour laws, taking care to protect themselves. A businessman in our locality brings youngsters from his native town to work in his house and in his office. One of the youngsters looked obviously about 13 years old. When I casually asked him his age, he replied, “18.” This aroused my curiosity. I asked some of the others (who also looked well below 18) the same question. The answer was always “18″ or “19.” Obviously, their employer had coached them to say this. The employer obviously knew he was doing something illegal. The young boys also probably knew that child labour is illegal, but for one or more of the reasons you mentioned, they went along with it.

    1. Oh yes! The 18-19 game is popular here also. Almost all the girls ranging from about 13 years to 30 years will tell their age as 18-19. Just like a trained parrot. Of course people who indulge in it do it knowing very well that they are doing something terribly illegal.

  2. Wow some of the stuff people have endured is sickening! Over here in Canada there is currently a controversy going on about foreign workers. They are an optimal choice for Canadian companies for several reasons. Some utilize them for their superior skills to fulfill a role in the Canadian labour market that would otherwise be left empty, others mistreat the workers by paying below MW and differential treatment. Some would even call it modern day slavery! It’s crazy what some people get away with, in every part of the world.

    1. Welcome to my space! Whatever you have written doesn’t surprise me. I’m just back from my trip to UAE and I understand that there is a huge difference between the wages of a male and female employee with similar experience and background. There is bigger gap in wages for expatriates with similar or better experience. And we say slavery has been abolished long back. Sigh!

      1. Yes it is definitely a topic which needs some more light shed on it! I have written a few blogs about cultural issues related to this phenomenon which actually gained a lot of attention where I live. Check it out if you have some time! 🙂

  3. Sending a child as domestic help should be counted as child abuse too. Not only are they made to do what they may not be able to take, but their rights to education are abused too. Not to mention the physical abuse they may be subjected to like you have told in your post. It is a sad thing, and I wish laws are passed that nip this nuisance in the bud.

    1. Welcome to my space, Leo! I don’t believe it is just laws that can nip this nuisance. I feel it is a collective effort by people like us that can help nip it. We should take the responsibility to inform the concerned officials if we happen to witness any such situation. We ought to ban such people from our lives. Then and only then it can be removed. The sad truth is these people live in our own society. Right under our nose such things happen. And most of the times, we comfortably choose to ignore because that is the easiest thing to do and doesn’t take much effort than to just turn your head the other way round and forget about it.

  4. Reading these first hand experiences sends a shiver down the spine… In India we seriously do not know how to respect and value someone’s life and existence do we? I am with you on this..but I hope if ever such a law gets implemented, it is followed through… given how corrupt and lax we are…. the possibility of that seems bleak too 😦

    1. Yes. The circumstances leave us wondering if ever things can improve. But at least we can all do our bit to control it to the extent possible.

  5. you know people cry out loud when they are treated bad by a foreigner and remarks like racist etc come .. but we indians are the most racist people .. I mean in our day to day life we do it all the time .. on caste — creed- sex-work – anything
    we call a rickshaw wala Bhaiya.. but the word bhaiya here doesnot mean brother..
    sad sad state of affair in our great nation
    i wish things can be changed

    1. Bikram, we are the biggest hypocrites when it comes to having double standards. We crib and make a huge cry if a teacher forgets to put an ‘undeserved’ + sign against an A in our child’s notebook. But the same us will not think twice before punishing a similar aged child working for us if they happen to make a mistake or even if it is just a perceived mistake. We don’t even tend to apologize.

      1. You are 100% right..

        One good thing that has happened to me coming to uk is that I think I now have a soft heart.. If i was in india I probably would behave the same way as everyone does.. but coming here and doing the job i do have changed my outlook so very much ..

  6. It is sickening to read how some people treat their domestic helps. I have heard similar stories. I try to do my bit of good to these unfortunate people. I have never raised my voice to a domestic help and I never allow kids to do work. Once when my maid send her 12 year old girl to work in her place, I told her never to do that and send the girl back. Kids should be given the privilege to study and play..not work.

    1. Doing our bit is very important. As the saying goes, every drop counts. Every single effort counts. It may not be visible as of now, but as the change of good deeds grows, things will definitely improve. Thanks for reading Preeti!

  7. Reading your blog for the very first time, and I dont know how to react. People hitting people. I wish India become like US and if we have to employ someone at home we have to treat them with dignity and respect and pay and treat properly. Bathroom video of a kid comeon, that jerk could have browsed internet.

    1. Welcome to my space!
      I guess outside of India in most places it is mandatory to treat your employers (be it domestic helps) with due respect and provide them with basic amenities. That’s what the fundamental human rights mean. But in India we have redefined it to suit our own selfish urges. Your last sentence is what my first thought was when I heard it. But then there are enough jerks out there out of scope of our understanding.

  8. I always thought that incidents that you mentioned are few and far between. But shocked to read that it happens much more than I thought of. Who makes video of maid bathing and who beats a child with a rod; sick people. You are right, we are responsible too. I hate that sight where ladies eat in fancy restaurants and maids wait in a corner. Once I remember, it was June, in Delhi and this family was entering a toy shop with maid carrying the child and she was barefoot. I loathe such people. How much a footwear cost, I know less than those fancy toys for your own kids.

    1. Saru this kind of behavior is widespread. People spend 1000s on silly purchases. I have seen people throwing away Subway Burgers or McDonalds McPuffs after just a bite or two while the hungry and tired maid looks on. Pathetic and rude!

  9. This is one subject on which I have never had clarity on the right way to proceed. At the outset, let me clarify that it is obviously EVIL to ill-treat children, so I am not talking of that but of just the use of child labor.
    It is, obviously, robbing a child of her childhood, prospects of bettering her future by education and, since the child is unable to make a choice of her own – due to lack of judgment and/or inability to resist – it ends up in being a form of slavery. Obviously reprehensible. The problem for me, though, is that I am not too sure that the alternative will end up worse for the children themselves. In the sense that a replacement of child labor by automation, for example, would further increase the rich-poor divide. The child still loses her childhood, has no prospects and ends up being a slave of hunger and poverty instead of specific people.
    THAT is not a justification of the continuance of child labor – it is an individual’s dilemma about which choice is correct. For Society, though, instituting a welfare state that radically reduces starvation-level poverty is a must. THAT way, the need for the child to earn is eliminated for the concerned families and criminalisation of child labor would work in reality too. The reason why some laws do not get the social sanction of even those close to the people whom the laws intend protecting is that they feel that the law is coming in the way of their survival.
    A serious attempt to eradicate poverty of the BPL sort – is probably the best way to tackle this evil, too.

    1. I completely understand what you’re saying Sir. But wouldn’t each of us doing our bit help for a better future for all of us? Many a times it is not monetary help or dedicated hours that are required, but just a push, a direction that might help the needy. Every other comment talked of how it is mandatory to treat people with dignity and respect. But what we are ignoring is the fact that in those countries the government provides unemployment benefits and medical aid to its people and thus the basic requirements like food, shelter and health are taken care of. This is what we lack in our country. Something that I believe is not completely impossible if we tackle our population statistics.

  10. Thank you, Rekha, for linking to my post. This is a topic that constantly nags at my conscience. I see so many people almost blatant in their treatment of children. I want to slap them in the least. Once I wrote against one such family that lives in my community in the community mailing list and guess what they stopped talking to me. I didn’t care. It is better to stay away from such people. The experiences you share are chilling. These children are so vulnerable and utterly helpless that it is one in thousands who actually finds a good family to live in. In my mind, I am crystal clear. I have never employed a child even as a babysitter. I will not do something that my conscience does not permit no matter what the arguments are about their poverty. I have helped one of my previous maids in the education of her son. What is sickening is that most people end up taking the exploitation route? Lax laws and selfish people. Thank you for your detailed article!

    1. It is so much better to not have to talk to such criminals. You did the right thing by exposing them. The thing is people talk so much about government not helping the poor right when they are engaging into such activities. Government alone cannot make the required change. It is us, the citizens of this country, who need to wake up and act fairly for our own selves. Trust me, if these children get an opportunity to study they’ll surely excel. It’s just a matter of supporting them and getting them admitted and interested. The presswala near my maternal home has three daughters and he chose to send them to school against his family and friends. His eldest daughter has now scored a merit scholarship under one of the schemes of Delhi Government schools and is getting advanced computer training. My parents supported her with my sister’s laptop that is lying unused after her marriage and I provided books as I get them at staff discount. These are things that won’t hurt us and will help a child (and in turn a family) improve. The reward is the satisfaction you get by doing it.

    1. Thanks Roshni! It’s pathetic to see people treating their pets with so much love while they treat the poor little boys and girls so badly. And these are people who are well aware that they’re engaging in a criminal offence.

  11. The experiences you’ve accounted really are spine-chilling but it’s a reality…..it’s so hard to fight against those people who behave in this way…child labour is a deep-rooted problem in our country…I don’t know if ever it will be eradicated… 😦

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