As a separated mother in middle-class New Delhi, Shobha Batra struggled to make ends meet. She worked as a nurse, helped run the family's kindergarten and spent hours cleaning, cooking and looking after her six-year-old. She needed someone to help out, but worried that a man in the house could be dangerous and a woman might bring home boyfriends. Far better, and cheaper, she decided, to buy a child.

Finding one wasn't difficult. She met Babita through a friend who had employed the child's mother. Babita's father, Parikshit, was happy to let her leave the family of eight's...

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