Bonded labour – or
debt bondage – the
least known form of
slavery today, and
yet it is the most
widely used method
of enslaving people.
Excessive working hours
Subjection to psychological, verbal,
physical and sexual abuse
Obliged to work by circumstances or
Work and life on the streets in bad
Inability to escape from the poverty
cycle -- no access to education
• A person becomes a bonded labourer when his or her
labour is demanded as a means of repayment for a loan.
The person is then tricked or trapped into working for
very little or no pay, often for seven days a week. The
value of their work is invariably greater than the original
sum of money borrowed.
• The United Nations Working Group on Contemporary
Forms of Slavery estimated in 1999 that some 20 million
people are held in bonded labour around the world.
• Bonded labour has existed for thousands of years. In
South Asia it took root in the caste system and continues
to flourish in feudal agricultural relationships. Bonded
labour was also used as a method of colonial labour
recruitment for plantations in Africa, the Caribbean and
South East Asia.
• Bonded labourers are routinely threatened with and
subjected to physical and sexual violence. They are kept
under various forms of surveillance, in some cases by
armed guards. There are very few cases where chains are
actually used (although it does occur) but these
constraints on the bonded labourers are every bit as real
and as restricting.
• Poverty, and people prepared to exploit the desperation of
others lies at the heart of bonded labour.
Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees the right to life and
liberty. The practice of bonded labour violates all of these constitutionally-
Article 23 of the Constitution prohibits the practice of debt bondage and
other forms of slavery both modern and ancient. Traffic in human beings
and begar and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any
contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance
with the law.
Article 24 prohibits the employment of children in factories, mines, and
other hazardous occupations.
Together, Articles 23 and 24 are placed under the heading "Right against
Exploitation," one of India's constitutionally-proclaimed fundamental rights.
Salient Features of the Act:
1) totally abolishes bonded labour
2) to identify and rehabilitate bonded labourer
3) identify certain scheme on committees to be formed at the
4) punishment of up to 3yrs imprisonment and/or fine
5) any attachment of property of bonded laborers stands
cancelled form the date of enforcement of the act
6) employers not to evict the bonded labourer from the
Case study :1
Jeyanthi Vs. Sri Lakshmi
Modern Rice Mills
Facts of the Case:
• After losing her husband to an illness , Jeyanthi was
forced to step in as the bread earner for her six young
• With no education, work was hard to come by for her, and
existence was at bare subsistence levels.
• Jeyanthi got by, working as a casual labourer; and as her
sons became older, they too pitched in.
• Life was to take a nastier turn for Jeyanthi when her eldest
child was to get married. Even the most shoe-string
wedding budget worked out to Rs 10,000, money
that Jeyanthi didn't have.
• She also had no land or asset she could sell, anything of
value she had was long gone
**Like many before her in her village, in Andhra
Pradesh, Jeyanthi approached the owners of the Sri
Lakshmi Modern Rice Mills for a loan and a job to help
pay it off.**
Jeyanthi was made to work long hours under inhuman
She couldn't go home, her wages were way below the
minimum wage rate.
she had to put up with repeated sexual abuse by her
Jeyanthi, whose pitiful plight is narrated by the Bandhua
1947 campaign, run by 5 organisations working in this
space, is bonded labour - forced or partly forced labour
governed by a debtor-creditor agreement.
The current UPA government, celebrating its nine years in office, has been
putting out a print ad that is headlined: "thanks to MGNREGA (Mahatma
Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), no bonded labour
anymore"......but statistics displays something else!
ROLE OF MODERN DAY SLAVERY
(Supported by humanity united)
Back in ANANTAPUR, facilitator Albina Gidh is helping to
spread the word.
She has had to negotiate with community leaders(MILL
OWNERS), the village panchayat (local governance body)
and other influential people in the community to allow
the listening and discussion process to take place.
People started endorsing the idea of listening to the
programme together and discussing the issue.
Jeyanthi was the one of those victims who was rescued by
this ngo out of this vicious circle of bondage when she
failed to get any help from GOVERNMENT.
THE STRUGGLE & INITIATIVES:
• As it is difficult to reach current victims directly, the listener
village helps community members to identify
them, complementing local initiatives focused on rescue and
• Stories of struggle and success are gathered by reporters from
the local community trained in bonded labour
awareness, community engagement and using recording
equipment. A 30-minute radio programme titled 'Majboor Kisko
Bola' (Who are you calling helpless?) is then produced in our
New Delhi office, containing drama based on the stories
gathered, along with expert interviews and folk music.
• Each episode also contains crucial information on government
schemes and agencies that target bonded labour, on the Bonded
Labour Abolition Act, safe migration, trafficking, methods of
rescue, minimum wages, and how NGOs and the media can help.
• Dissemination is undertaken by community
facilitators, who are identified as agents of change within
their village by partner NGOs and are trained on group
cohesion and conflict resolution, along with how to
capture results coming from the activities. Facilitators
organise their villages into groups to listen to each
episode, engage in discussions afterwards, and act on the
information they have heard. They ensure that at least
half of households listen to each episode every week.
Case study :2
Jayantilal and company
zari unit in Bapunagar
owned by Zia-Ul-Haque
Complaint in December 2001
Facts of case :-
A team of the state labour department raided a zari unit
and found children working there
Six kids from Bihar as bonded labourers at a zari unit
Shiakh was booked under the of the Bonded Labour
System (Abolition) Act
Complaint against Shaikh :
child labourers were confined inside Shaikh's
workplace and were made to do zari-work ,
the children were made to work without fixed working
hours and were paid below the minimum wages.
No proper visibility .
No proper ventilation.
Normal workday of 16 hours.
Very low wage rate.
Labour suffering from suffocation due to cloth dust.
Suffering from eye problems and spinal disorder.
No proper medical facilities available.
Proper drinking water not available.
Case filed by prosecution
agency was week and no
strong evidence or witness
and hence court gave
decision in favour of Shaikh
Reasons for failure of
case in court
• some glaring loopholes in the case prepared by the
• The court acquitted Shaikh giving him a benefit of doubt.
• complainant officer was not authorized to lodge the
complaint by the concerned higher authorities.
• No definite evidence was produced about the age and
names of the child labourers
• No statement of the victims were recorded and placed
before the court during the trial
• The presiding officer also criticized the prosecution on the
ground that it did not specify the wage given.
• The prosecution could not even prove that the kids were
working at the same zari unit.
In India there are certain rules to avoid
child labour but are not implemented due
to following reasons:-
Poverty and unemployment
Lack of awareness
Lengthy court procedures
CASE study :3
Bandhua Mukti Morcha v/s
Union of India
In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of
India, the main issue concerned the
existence of bonded labour in the
Faridabad stone quarries near the city of
It was alleged that majority of the
workers were compelled to migrate from
other states, and turned into
bonded labourers. The workers were living
in sub-human and miserable conditions.
A violation of various labour laws and
the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act
1976 was alleged.
Facts Of The Case
The SC stated that before a bonded labour can be regarded
as a bonded labourer, he must not only be forced to
provide labour to the employer but he must have also
received an advance or other economic consideration from
A public interest litigation was brought against the
inhuman working conditions in the stone quarries
in Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India and others. This
was primarily brought as the various directions given by the
Apex Court in the 1984 petition brought by the same
appellants had not been implemented by the various state
• It may be noted that in this case a letter addressed to this
Court complaining about prevalence of bonded labour system
in Cutton, Anagpur and Lakkaarpur areas in Haryana, was
treated as a writ petition under Art. 32 of the Constitution.
• The Court held that what is necessary is provision of a
permanent base for residence of the labourers, at or near the
work site. This would necessitate reasonable housing, supply
of water, a reasonable provision store at hand, schooling
facility, facility of a hospital, recreational facilities and
attention to the law and order problem. The court directed the
State of Haryana to attend to the needs of the workmen in a
well-considered and systematic way and to provide them with
the facilities mentioned above.
Case study : 4
CHILD BONDED LABOUR :
INDIA’s HIDDEN sHAME
DELHI: (Story of Lakshmi)
BACHPAN BACHAO ANDOLAN
FACTS OF THE CASE:
• 13 years old Lakshmi was abducted four years ago from
her village in North-east India.
• Until her rescue, she had been working in people's homes
across West Delhi –
*taking care of children
*Other household chores.
**Frail and frightened Lakshmi describes her nightmare
to NGO people**
• She was not allowed to rest .
• She could’nt go home.
• For even small mistakes , she was been constantly hit by
• She was the victim of verbal abuse as well.
• She was never allowed to leave the house, so she didn't
realise that she is in Delhi. Her employers told her that
we are in Madras in South India."
• As the police and counsellors question her, Lakshmi
breaks down. She tells the police that she was sexually
assaulted by the men who kidnapped her.
• She was threatened that if she told anyone about it, they
would tell everyone back home in her village and her
honour would be destroyed.
• And then, when she started working the agent who
arranged her work withheld all her wages leaving her
(The government body in charge of children's rights admits they are helpless)
• "Unfortunately our child labour prohibition and regulation act
is totally outdated," says Kushal Singh, head of the National
Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
• "It says children below the age of 14 cannot be employed in
hazardous occupations. Does that mean in non-hazardous
occupations a two-year-old child can be employed?
• "So obviously it's a very regressive act. This issue has been
raised and now an amendment is pending in the parliament.
However, it has been pending for a very long time.“
• If the law changes, it will make the fight against child
exploitation a little easier.
• But that's no relief for families like these. Many here fear that
their daughters may be lost forever
BACHPAN BACHAO ANDOLAN:
(formed in 1980 by Kailash
Satyarthi, who was appalled by
the plight of child labourers)
• The work of BBA takes three strands, being prevention,
protection and rehabilitation.
• Prevention is encouraged through community
intervention. Public awareness campaigns and efforts to
publicise the problems of child labour to consumers.
• The BBA's Child Friendly Village program (in Hindi, Bal
Mitra Gram, or BMG), has been accepted as a best
practice model for development and elimination of child
labour and trafficking.
• Protection: Where possible, the Indian legislative
provisions are used to restrain and eliminate the
practices of child labour and trafficking, and campaigns
for tightening and developing the legislation are pursued.
BBA works to recover fines from employers and
traffickers and also to obtain monies owed to those whose
labour has been used.
• Rehabilitation: BBA tries to ensure that rehabilitation
remains the responsibility of the State (Govt.). Statutory
rehabilitation is one of the key components of legal
action. This includes a fine of 20,000 Rs. on the employer,
in cases of child labour, a further compensation of Rs.
20,000 from the Govt., apart from other Govt. social
Coz..in every 8 minutes a child is abducted as a
a) The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act was enacted in
1976. Twenty years later, Human Rights Watch has found
that the goals of this law -to punish employers of
bonded labour and to identify, release, and rehabilitate
bonded labourers- have not been met.
b) The district-level vigilance committees, mandated by the
Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act and constituting
the key to the enforcement of the act, have not been
formed in most districts. Those that have formed tend to
c) Whether for lack of will or lack of support, India's district
collectors have failed utterly to enforce the provisions of
the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act. The state of
Tamil Nadu has an estimated one million
1. The mandated rehabilitation of released workers is essential.
Without adequate rehabilitation, those who are released will
quickly fall again into bondage. Nonetheless, the central and
state governments have jointly failed to implement the required
1. Finally, the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act directs
vigilance committees and district collectors to institute savings
and credit programs at the community level, so that the
impoverished might have access to a small loan during financial
2. The eradication of bonded child labor in India depends on the
Indian government's commitment to two imperatives:
enforcement of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, and
the creation of meaningful alternatives for already-bonded
laborers and those at risk of joining their ranks.