Saving the Slaving Child: Domestic Work, Labor Trafficking, and the Politics of Rescue in India

Abstract: In recent years, anti-trafficking NGOs in New Delhi have highlighted the exploitative aspects of domestic work in India, rescuing impoverished young rural migrant girls brought by unregulated “placement agencies” to work in urban homes. This article examines how these donor-driven NGOs employ the U.S.-driven, globally pervasive frameworks of human trafficking and “modern-day slavery,” while working within the provisions of postcolonial Indian laws, and conducting rescues with the local police. Through ethnographic observations of a rescue operation, the article explores what it means to save a slaving child from domestic labor. It argues that the tensions between and among those subjected to exploitative work conditions and those rescuing them reveal conflicting constructions of slavery, trafficking, child labor, and childhood itself.

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About Vibhuti Ramachandran

Vibhuti Ramachandran is an Assistant Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Irvine. Her research centers on the anthropology of law, gender and sexuality, NGO's, South Asia, human rights and humanitarianism, and the politics of anti-trafficking interventions. Her book manuscript, tentatively titled Producing the Trafficked Victim: Law, Prostitution, and NGO Intervention in India, examines how U.S.-driven, NGO-led anti-sex trafficking interventions in India are shaped by postcolonial Indian law, local moral frameworks and gender ideologies, and the experiences, choices, and expectations through which sex workers rescued (willingly or unwillingly) from Indian brothels encounter these interventions.