IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Bonded  Labor      

16th December, 2021 Society


Figure 1: No Copyright Infringement Intended


  • Government has recently said in Lok Sabha that it has achieved the target of abolishing manual scavenging. 

Prevalence of Bonded Labour in India

  • According to International Labour Organization there were 1.17 crores bonded labourers in 2014.
  • The most current available data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) indicate that there were 8,132 reported cases of human trafficking across India in 2016.
  • Bonded labour is mostly prevalent in agricultural sector, informal sector including cotton textile handlooms, brick kilns, construction work, brothels, stone quarries, carpet weaving, bidi rolling, rearing of silk cocoons, production of silk sarees, silver jewellery, synthetic gemstones, precious gem cutting, leather products, domestic help etc.
  • The low-income states such as Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh are more vulnerable to prevalence of bonded labour. A large number of bonded labourers are also rescued every year from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

 Concept of Bonded Labor:

  • render, by himself or through any member of his family, or any person dependent on him, labour or service to the creditor for a specified period or for any unspecified period, either without wages or for nominal wages,
  • forfeit the freedom of employment or other means of livelihood for a specified period or for an unspecified period, or
  • forfeit the right to move freely throughout the territory of India,
  • forfeit the right to appropriate or sell at market value any of his property or product of his labour or the labour of a member of his family or any person dependent on him

Causes of it:

  • The social and economic marginalisation of weaker sections and their inability to move out of their respective group makes them particularly vulnerable to forced labour and human trafficking.
  • Informal and unregulated sectors which are estimated to employ around 94% of the workforce in India. And the debt bondage continues to be prevalent in these sectors.
  • the lack of labour regulations in these sectors creates huge power imbalances in employer-worker relationships and increases workers’ vulnerability to exploitation. Note- Labour legislations only available for formal sectors.
  • Chronic underpayment of minimum wages in low-skilled and semi-skilled work is also a major reason for debt bondage because due to the non-payment, the large-scale workforce has to depend on debt bondage to meet basic consumption needs, medical needs, social ritual needs etc.
  • Most often, the members of the vulnerable groups lack good livelihood opportunities and access to credit and financial services, which makes them vulnerable to constant indebtedness.
  • Failure of authorities to effectively implement measures to address the issue is also a reason for the prevalence of forced labour in India.
  • Economic and Education inequalityalong the caste line. Tribals/Harijan/ Dalit and Lower caste people are more vulnerable to fall for it under the guise of unpaid debt or unaware legal rights.
  • Extreme poverty in some areas like Kalahandi in Orissa where many parents sell their children to brick kiln owner, bangles factory owners and even to human traffickers.
  • Many low paid jobs are not mechanised in India which is minor but one reason for making slavery lucrative in India.



Constitutional Provisions:

  • Article 21 deals with the Right to Life and Personal Liberty.
  • Article 23 of the Constitution prohibits forced labour.
  • Article 24 prohibits the employment of children (below the age of fourteen years) in factories, etc.
  • Article 39 directs the State to secure the health and strength of workers, men and women, and to see the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength.


Related legislations:

Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976

  • To abolish bonded labour in India, the Parliament of India enacted the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.
  • The District Magistrates were given the authority to enforce the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act of 1976.
  • As per this act, trials for labour offences could be set up at local and national levels by the Indian Judicial powers.
  • However, due to poor implementation of the law, there were almost 3,00,000 bonded labourers in India as per the figures put out in 2009 by the Ministry of Labour and Employment.

Central Sector Scheme for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourers (2016):

  • Financial assistance to the extent of Rs. 3 lakhs is provided to released bonded labourers along with other non-cash assistance for their livelihood.


Way Forward:

  • Increase the amount of compensation provided by law.
  • Involve expanded and strengthened vigilance committees at various stages of the process.
  • Make efforts to organise bonded labourers at various levels, and set up training programmes.
  • As part of rehabilitation, increase the protection over land and other assets to which the bonded labourers have had access.
  • Extend the prohibition on eviction from any land under cultivation by the bonded labourer and other assets, such as brick kilns, and prevent transfer of the bonded labourer’s property to a third
  • Since the predominant cause for lapsing into bondage for the rural poor is incurring debts largely for consumption needs, direct the jurisdictional banks to provide consumption loans to the released and existing bonded labourers.
  • Provide employment guarantees for released bonded labourers.