Indian couple held for locking up child maid

2012-04-04 20:32

New Delhi - Indian police arrested a doctor couple on Wednesday who allegedly locked up their 13-year-old maid while they went on holiday, in a case that has spotlighted abuse of under-age domestic servants.

Police say the affluent couple, both medical doctors with thriving practices, locked the child in their flat in New Delhi last month with little food when they went to Thailand on vacation.

Police deputy commissioner A K Ojha said police arrested the couple acting on a "tip-off" after they went into hiding following their return at the end of March.

The girl was rescued by fire fighters after four days when neighbours spotted her crying on the balcony of the apartment in an upmarket block in the east of the capital in a case that has made headlines since last weekend.

The girl accused her employers, Sanjay and Sumita Verma, of beating her and pulling out her hair. The couple had also allegedly installed closed circuit cameras inside the house to keep a watch on her.

"I was regularly beaten up by the couple and their 11-year-old daughter. They would hit me with a ruler and pull my hair," she said in a statement to India's Child Welfare Committee.

"I would get only two chappatis [flat bread] a day."

In 2006, India passed legislation banning employment of children under 14 in households, roadside eateries and hotels, but the law is widely flouted in the country of 1.2 billion people.

Police have filed a case against the couple, accusing them of violating the Child Labour Prohibition act. A lawyer for the couple has denied the allegations of mistreatment and said the child had locked the door from the inside.

Social welfare activists say children are widely employed by India's middle classes, who often claim they are doing good by giving jobs to destitute children.

The child, from the poverty-stricken eastern state of Jharkhand, had been given by an uncle to a servant agency which placed her with the couple.

India's Child Welfare Committee said the girl had told them she had done all the laundry and cleaning for the family and received no pay.

Last month, a US judge said a maid should be paid nearly $1.5m for "slavery" after her Indian diplomat employer in New York forced her to work 15-hour days for $70 a week.

India rejected the ruling, citing diplomatic immunity.