Debt bondage in India

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India has one of the highest rates of slavery in the world, behind Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, etc. (Estimates from the Walk Free Foundation.)

Debt bondage in India was legally abolished in 1976 but it remains prevalent, with weak enforcement of the law by governments.[1] Bonded labour involves the exploitive interlinking of credit and labor agreements that devolve into slave-like exploitation due to severe power imbalances between the lender and the borrower.[1]

The rise of Dalit activism, government legislation starting as early as 1949,[2] as well as ongoing work by NGOs and government offices to enforce labour laws and rehabilitate those in debt, appears to have contributed to the reduction of bonded labour in India. However, according to research papers presented by the International Labour Organization, there are still many obstacles to the eradication of bonded labour in India.[3][4]

Debt bondage[edit]

Debt bondage in India is most prevalent in agricultural areas. Farmers taking small loans can find themselves paying interest on the loans that exceeds 100% of the loan per year.[1]


Further information: Child labour in India

Debt bondage in India applies to children “sold” by their parents.[5] A form of long run employer-slave relationship is formed when these children are tied to this debt bondage to work for their employers for a time period that could be stretched to a lifetime, and usually for minimal or no wages.[6]

Estimates in India[edit]

Estimates of the problem vary. Official figures include a 1993 estimate of 251,000 bonded labourers[7] while the Bandhua Mukti Morcha says there are 65 million bonded child labourers, and a larger number of adults. A 2003 project by Human Rights Watch has reported a major problem with bonded child labour in the silk industry.[8]

Contributing factors[edit]

Author and academic Siddharth Kara believes that 'The system persists due to poverty, absence of alternative credit sources, a lack of justice and rule of law, and social acceptance of the exploitation of minority castes and ethnicities that has been prevalent in South Asia since Vedic times'.[1]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d "A $110 loan, then 20 years of debt bondage". CNN. June 2, 2011. 
  2. ^ Hart, Christine Untouchability Today: The Rise of Dalit Activism, Human Rights and Human Welfare, Topical Research Digest 2011, Minority Rights
  3. ^ International Dalit Solidarity Network: Key Issues: Bonded Labour
  4. ^ Ravi S. Srivastava Bonded Labor in India: Its Incidence and Pattern InFocus Programme on Promoting the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work; and International Labour Office,(2005). Forced Labor. Paper 18
  5. ^ "Bonded Labor in India". 
  6. ^ "Incidence and Pattern". 
  7. ^ Statement by observer for India to the United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery (para 81), report [1] September 7, 2006
  8. ^ SMALL CHANGE: Bonded Child Labor in India's Silk Industry, Human Rights Watch, January 2003 accessed at [2] September 7, 2006