The decomposing bodies of several children were found buried on Friday behind a house outside New Delhi, and a domestic servant confessed to sexually abusing and killing at least seven children, officials said.

The servant, who said he lured the children with the promise of chocolate and sweets, was arrested, said R.K.S. Rathore, police chief for the area. The owner of the house was also arrested, although investigators had not yet determined if he had a direct role in the killings, Rathore said.

As police searched the property in Noida, a township east of the capital, word spread that as many as 38 children had disappeared in the area in the past few years. Parents of the missing children said they had appealed repeatedly to police but their pleas were brushed aside.

"Now we're investigating further and in due course we'll come to know more details, including the number of bodies," Rathore told The Associated Press.

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The servant, who went by the names Satish or Surendra, was found with a missing girl's mobile phone, and suspicious police went to the house, where they smelled decomposing corpses, Rathore said.

Police were using a back-hoe and bulldozer to help dig through the yard, and reports were filtering out that the remains of dozens more children may be buried at the house. One police officer, who asked not to be identified because the investigation was ongoing, said he saw 12 skulls.

"We have been pursing with police the case of these 38 children who have been missing," said Satish Chandra Mishra, a former president of the local residents association.

Among the onlookers were parents of missing children, most of them poor domestic workers.

Sunita Kumari, who irons clothes for a living, said her 10-year-old daughter, Jyoti, had been missing for a year and seven months.

"I have no clue what happened to my daughter. I sent her to the tailor and she's been missing since then," she said.

Durga Prasad, a driver, said he sent his 7-year-old daughter, Arti, to buy candies on Sept. 25 and she never came back.

"The police tell us they're looking and asked us to keep looking too, but we have no news about our child," Prasad said.

Usha Thakur, who runs the Shivsagar Mishra Manav Trust, a group that works with poor people in the neighborhood, said police had repeatedly brushed off reports of missing children.

"Because these are poor people the police even refuse to register cases for the missing children," Thakur told The Associated Press over the telephone from Calcutta, where she was traveling.

Police officials did not comment about the allegations, but CNN-IBN reported that a midlevel commander in the neighborhood was suspended hours after the bodies were found.

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