It is more profitable and less risky for traffickers to bring girls from the interiors of India to work as maids and nannies in urban India than to force them into prostitution, a child rights group has said.
This is the reason there has been a mushrooming of illegal placement agencies - those who "buy" girls from traffickers and then send them to work in middle-class and affluent neighbourhoods, says Rishikant, executive director of NGO Shakti Vahini.
An agent earns anything between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 if a girl is sold to a brothel. But if a girl is sourced to work as a maid, the agent gets at least Rs. 20,000 as commission up front and then gets to pocket a portion of the girl's salary every month.
This is why "sending a girl to work as a domestic help is less risky and more lucrative," says Rishikant.
The figures support this theory. An analysis of trafficking data has showed that though trafficking of minors is on the rise, buying and selling girls for prostitution has witnessed a slump. In 2011, 862 cases of trafficking of minor girls were reported as compared to 679 in 2010, an increase of 27%. But during the same period, the selling and buying of girls for prostitution saw a dip of 13.1% and 65.4%, respectively.
Girls employed as maids in Delhi are mostly trafficked from Bihar, West Bengal, UP and Jharkhand. Vulnerable and alone in an unfamiliar environment, they are at the mercy of their employers and handlers - they do not even get their monthly salary. Often, agency owners directly collect their salaries from their employers.
It's not just the girls who are exploited. Lakhs of families in the Capital and NCR dependent on these agencies for their domestic helps are often duped by them.