Incidences and pattern of bonded labour: A reality check
Peonage is a system where labourers are bound in servitude until their debts are paid in full. Those bound by such a system are known, in the US, as peons. Peonage is a form of unfree or restricted or constrained labour. Such systems have existed in many places at many times throughout history. According to Anti-Slavery International, "A person enters debt bondage when their labour is demanded as a means of repayment of a loan, or of money given in advance. Usually, people are tricked or trapped into working for no pay or very little pay (in return for such a loan), in conditions which violate their human rights. Invariably, the value of the work done by a bonded labourer is greater than the original sum of money borrowed or advanced.” About 40 million people in India, most of them Dalits, are bonded workers, many working to pay off debts that were incurred generations ago. These figures are comparable to ones in Bolivia, Brazil, Peru and Philippines. Of 20 million bonded labourers in Pakistan 7.5 million are children. An estimated 496,000 children are in slavery in Bangladesh. The paper shall deal with the International scenario of bonded labour. Debt bondage has been defined by the United Nations as a form of "modern day slavery" and is prohibited by international law. It is specifically dealt with by Article 1(a) of the United Nations 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery. The practice of bonded labour violates various International Human Rights Conventions wherein India is a party to all of them and such is legally bound to comply with their terms. Bonded labour is widely prevalent in many regions in India. The main feature of the system is that the debtor pledges his person or that a member of his family for a loan and is released on the repayment of the debt. The paper shall also deal with the Constitutional support provided for prohibition of bonded labour as in Articles 14, 15, 19, 21 and various others. Last but not the least the paper shall deal with the salient features of The Bonded Labour System (Implementation) Act, 1976. Thus, bonded labour must be attacked from many fronts. Enforcement of the law is essential, but it is not enough. The bonded labour must have someplace else to go. The elimination of current debt bondage and the prevention of new or renewed bondage therefore, require a combination of concerted government action and extensive community involvement.