Breaking the stranglehold

Breaking the stranglehold


The Global Slavery Index 2016 estimated 1.8 crore Indians in modern slavery, including boundedness.

Important Facts:

  • While the bonded labour system is formally abolished and criminalised, recent research indicates that bonded labour is still prevalent in India.
  • 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
  • A 2016 report found that in the state of Tamil Nadu, 351 of 743 spinning mills use bonded labour schemes, known as Sumangali schemes.
  • According to a study on bonded labour practices in sandstone quarries in Rajasthan, workers become caught in lifelong debt bondage as they owe large sums of money to their employers or contractors and have to work for little or no pay.
  • The SDG 8.7 calls for immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking, and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms

Causes of Bonded Labour:

  • The economic causes include: extreme poverty of people, inabil­ity to find work for livelihood, inadequate size of the landholdings to support family, lack of alternative small-scale loans for the rural and urban poor, natural calamities like drought, floods etc
  • Social factors include: High expenses on occasions like marriage, death, feast, birth of a child, etc., leading to heavy debts, caste-based discrimination, lack of concrete social welfare schemes to safeguard against hunger and illness, non- compulsory and unequal educational system, and indifference and corruption among government officials.
  • Exploitation: Exploitation by some persons in a village also compels people to migrate to some other place and seek not only employment on the employer’s conditions but also get protection from influential persons
  • The Legislation – Article 23 was enshrined in it which prohibited ‘traffic in human beings’, ‘beggar’ and other similar forms of forced labour.
    • However, no serious effort was made to give effect to this Article and stamp out the shocking practice of bonded labour.
  • Lack of Opportunity: The lack of employment opportunities and the need to seek alternative sources of income force people to migrate to other states within India in search of work.


  • Situations of debt bondage are often aggravated by the need to raise emergency funds or take on loans for health crises.
  • Traffickers continue to source labour in socio-economically backward districts, an example being Bolangir in Odisha. Tribals and Dalits remain vulnerable.
  • Laborers are not aware of the Act and turn to the authorities only when it becomes overtly violent.
  • National Crime Records Bureau data show that not all cases of bonded labour are reported by the police. Between 2014 and 2016, they recorded just 1,338 victims, with 290 police cases filed
  • There has been no government-led nationwide survey since 1978, despite each district having been given ₹4.5 lakh for such surveys

Legal Provisions:

  • Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 is enacted to introduce better working conditions and minimize exploitation of contract laborers. Also the Act enjoins joint and several responsibilities on the principal employer and contractor.
  • Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 is an extension to article 23 of the Indian constitution. The Act intends to free all bonded laborers, cancel their debts, establish rehabilitative measures and punish the offender through imprisonment and fine.
  • Interstate migrant workmen (regulation and employment conditions of service) Act, 1979 was enacted to regulate the working conditions of inter-state laborers in Indian labour law.
  • Minimum wages Act, 1948 aims to ensure a fixed standard minimum wage for the laborers.
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