• Legis Scriptor

An Overview: Bonded labour system

Authored by Shaik Uzma

Keywords: Poverty,slavery,customs


Bonded labour, bondage or bond labour are the best terms to use when economic sanctions are related to forced labour. Bonded labour is a kind of exploitation where the minimum wage paid to the employees is scarcely adequate to cover the employee's everyday expenses and the employer-employee relationship is also characterised by unsettled and exploitative salary arrangements that are favourable to the employer. All kinds of bonded labour are not considered forced but most forced labour activities have a bonded aspect, regardless of whether adults or children are involved in the job.In India, bonded labour is common, under the threat of a tax, that is, because of loans taken and when people are unable to repay the loan, they become bonded workers. This penalty may consist of loss of rights and privileges, subjecting bonded employees to physical violence, power, hazards and coping with economic consequences.


Bonded labour refers to a worker serving under a bondage condition arising from economic consideration, notably debt through a loan or advance. Where debt is the root cause of bondage, the implication is that the worker is bound to a particular lender for a specified or unspecified period until the loan is repaid.

Approximately 32 lakh bonded labours are projected in India. Of both, 98 percent are related to loans and 2 percent are attributed to traditional societal commitments.


The bonded labour system was found to exist in India from ancient times to the present. The system has its origins in our agricultural society's socio-economic structure, which continues to be governed by feudal and semi-feudal structures, hierarchical caste, Framework, Widespread Poverty and Social Indifference Customs. Customs. Our society's dynamic system contributed to widening the distance between the haves and nots. The poor and the deprived were therefore limited by numerous social circumstances requires to take out loans or advances in cash or in kind.

The dominant sections of our society consequently mortgaged their labour which led to debt bondage and continued to be perpetuated for their self-aggrandizement by the upper strata of society. And the poor labourers were used by these people for their amusement.

This method, which predominated mostly among the agricultural sector, has now spread to other areas including brick kilns of stone quarries, building sites, forestry, carpet weaving, fishing, bidi making etc. This way, the old cruel labour machine has taken a new lease of life

Dimensions of our current socio-economic system.

Characteristics of bonded labour system.

One of the key aspects of the bonded labour system is the nature of a creditor-debtor relationship and the loss of freedom; the loss of freedom may be of various types, such as:

1. Loss of freedom to work or alternative job opportunities to make a decent living.

2. Loss of right to earn minimum wage in relation to a proposed work informed by the Government.

3. Loss of liberty to travel from one part of the world to another.

4. Loss of freedom to sell any products on the market, or even the work of any of its dependent family members.

Critical View of India’s Response to Bonded Labor System.

Bonded labour was abolished by the Indian government through the Bonded Labor System Abolition Act (1976). India 's Constitution guarantees free and dignified life for all the country's people, and forbids bonded labour by Articles 21, 23(1) and 24. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) highlights the fact that there were no programmes put forth by the government to improve food security and the right to live with dignity in twenty-eight representative districts across India. NHRC published its report on bonded labour in 2001; bonded labour was prevalent due to a lack of genuine political will and effective global strategy requiring strong political commitment.

In Balram v. State of Madhya Pradesh[1], The Hon'ble Supreme Court issued several directions to the Central Government and its officials to implement the act's provisions such as:

  1. Maintain ample funds for the purposes of this Act

  2. To ensure that the stipulated sum reached the beneficiary i.e. the free bonded labour, the collector and other appointed officials.

  3. Individual bank accounts which are opened in the beneficiary 's name.


● The Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act (hereinafter referred to as "the act") in 1976 provided various protections against bonded labour.

● According to Section 4 of the Act, the primary relief provided to the bonded labourers at the beginning of the act was that the bonded labour was exempted from the duty to provide bonded labour.

● Any custom / agreement by which bonded labour existed under Section 5 of the Act was rendered void and inoperative.

● Any lawsuit against the recovery of bonded debt was proscribed before any civil court.

● Any statute or order for the recovery of the bonded debt, passed before the beginning of this Act and not fully satisfied before such beginning, shall be deemed to have been fully satisfied upon such commencement.

● Under Section 7 of the Act, at the beginning of the act, any property that is under mortgage in respect of bonded debt shall be released.

● Any person held in civil gaol pursuant to the bonded debt shall be released as provided for in the act.

● Under Section 8 of the Act, a released bonded labour shall not be excluded from the household.


As far as enforcement of anti-slavery laws is concerned, India has been a weak performer according to a Global Slavery Index. The same factors are applied to the judiciary and police force, which are under-resourced. However, forced labour has widened its reach with the passing days, and the way it impacts people's lives. The traffickers often lure people from rural areas , particularly the Dalits, only to find themselves working as factory workers or working against them in brothels without their consent. Strict steps must be taken to ensure that the district committees formed pursuant to Section 13 of the Act are not dormant and special care must be taken to ensure that the members of those committees are alert to the increasing threat posed by Bonded Labor.


Foot Notes: [1] AIR 1990 SC 54