Stuti (name changed) would wake up at 5 every day to sweep, wash and dust the entire house, cook breakfast and pack lunch for the family of five and then go and drop the kids to the bus stop. But she is not the mother of these children; neither is she their caretaker. She herself is an 11-year-old child.
Working at the home of a MNC executive, she was made to work at least 12-14 hours daily, given only two meals and beaten up badly if she made a 'mistake'. When she was rescued at the instance of a neighbour who could not bear to see her regular trauma, she was found to be malnourished and scared.
But Stuti's is not alone. Megha (name changed), 13, ran away from her employer’s house to be found by a policeman on the streets in Kalkaji. She had run away from a doctor's house with a swollen ear, scratches on her face and bruises all over her body. The doctor's wife, she said, hit her every day.
There are thousands of minor domestic helps working in the homes of upper middle and middle class Indians who are meted out the same treatment daily. Child Welfare Committees, NGOs and police have rescued close to 200 minor domestic maids in the past six months.
Most tip-offs have been given by neighbours because these maids are regularly beaten up.
"I was once hit with a ‘tawa’ because I broke a glass jar by mistake," Stuti said.
Stuti came to Delhi as a nine-year-old from West Bengal. Her mother worked for the family's parents in their ancestral village and her mother thought she would be in safe hands.
"The working middle class is fuelling the child domestic help sector. We think that we are doing the girl and her family a favour by employing her. What we fail to understand is that this girl should be in a school instead of doing work that even a full-grown man would find daunting. Unless a girl is beaten up badly, no one complains," said Rajasebastian Robertson, who runs a shelter home called Global Family and is currently taking care of Stuti.
"Employing a young boy or girl is not considered a crime. Unless this attitude changes, girls will continue to be trafficked and tortured," he added.