Debt bondage

Debt bondage

Debt bondage (or bonded labour) is a form of slavery[citation needed] in which a person pledges him or herself against a loan.[1] In debt bondage, the services required to repay the debt may be undefined, and the services' duration may be undefined.[1] Debt bondage can be passed on from generation to generation.[1]

In modern times, debt bondage is most prevalent in South Asia.[1]


Legal definition

Debt bondage is classically defined as a situation when a person provides a loan to another and uses his or her labor or services to repay the debt; when the value of the work, as reasonably assessed, is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt, the situation becomes one of debt bondage.[citation needed] See United Nations 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery. This was very common in Ancient Greece. In ancient Athens, Solon forbade taking out loans using oneself as a security and ended any current such debts, ending debt bondage.

Historical background to bonded labor

Prior to the early modern age, feudal and serfdom systems were the predominant political and economic systems in Europe.

Historical peonage

Peonage systems have existed in many places at many times throughout history.[citation needed]

Historical examples

  • American colonies - Persons bonded themselves to an owner who paid their passage to the New World. They worked until the debt of passage was paid off, often for years.
  • In Peru a peonage system existed from the 16th century until land reform in the 1950s. One estate in Peru that existed from the late 16th century until it ended had up to 1,700 peons employed and had a jail. Peons were expected to work a minimum of three days a week for their landlord and more if necessary to complete assigned work. Workers were paid a symbolic 2 cents per year. Workers were unable to travel outside of their assigned lands without permission and were not allowed to organize any independent community activity. In the Peruvian Amazon, debt peonage is an important aspect of contemporary Urarina society.[2]

The rise of Dalit politicians in India, with overwhelming support by non-Dalits, as well as a government commitment to overall improvement of education, communication and living standards has resulted in the rapid decline of bonded labor there.[citation needed]

Modern views

According to the Anti-Slavery Society:

Pawnage or pawn slavery is a form of servitude akin to bonded labor under which the debtor provides another human being as security or collateral for the debt. Until the debt (including interest on it) is paid off, the creditor has the use of the labor of the pawn.[3]

Debt bondage has been defined by the United Nations as a form of "modern day slavery"[4] 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. It persists nonetheless especially in developing nations, which have few mechanisms for credit security or bankruptcy, and where fewer people hold formal title to land or possessions. According to some economists, for example Hernando de Soto, this is a major barrier to development in those countries - entrepreneurs do not dare take risks and cannot get credit because they hold no collateral and may burden families for generations to come.[citation needed]

Researcher Siddharth Kara has calculated the number of slaves in the world by type, and determined the number of debt bondage slaves to be 18.1 million at the end of 2006.[5]

See also

South Asia:

  • Bonded Labour Liberation Front, India
  • The State of Bonded Labor in Pakistan


  1. ^ a b c d Kevin Bales (2004). New slavery: a reference handbook. ABC-CLIO. pp. 15–18. ISBN 9781851098156. Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  2. ^ Dean, Bartholomew Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009, ISBN 978-081303378
  3. ^ What is pawnage or pawn slavery? Anti-Slavery Society
  4. ^ The Bondage of Debt: A Photo Essay, by Shilpi Gupta
  5. ^ Kara, Siddharth (January 2009). Sex Trafficking - Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0231139601. 

External links

International legal instruments

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