Debt slavery

Other Names:
Debt bondage
Bonded labour
Denial of right to freedom from compulsory labour
Violation of freedom from bond service

Bondservice, being bound to work without wages, often involves children who are either hired on a permanent basis for a wage paid to the parents, placed in work or hired out temporarily by the parents, pledged for a debt, or simply sold. The pledging of a person, either the debtor himself or of someone under his control, as security for a debt is in theory a temporary form of slavery ending after the debt has been repaid. But in fact, the labour given by the person in security is not counted towards the liquidation of the debt, and the debt is often inherited on his death by his children.


Debt slavery is the earliest recorded kind of slavery dating from 2600 BC in Egypt, where people sold themselves or their children in order to pay debts. After the Babylonian captivity the Jews were forced to sell their children to pay taxes. During the Greek and Roman Empires debt was one of many sources for obtaining slaves. Under the feudal system in Europe, debt bondage was widespread. Under Spanish colonial rule the South American Indians incurred debt bondage, being dispossessed of the land.


The practice of debt bondage is closely linked to a feudalistic land tenure system and as such it persists in Latin American countries (e.g. Bolivia, Chile and Brazil) which have not achieved adequate land reform and elsewhere where there are feudalistic systems (e.g. in Iran). In 1954, the Anti-Slavery Society reported "It is a very widely spread form of slavery and it is impossible to estimate the numbers affected by it". In Latin America, the people affected are the Indians, as a direct result of expropriation of their land (first by the Spanish conquerors, but which continues even now) and the lack of adequate policies to integrate them into sophisticated capitalist economic systems.

In Thailand, and the Maghreb children are often "given" away in payment for a debt entered into by the family, or merely to have one less mouth to feed. Estimates of the number of bonded labourers in India range from 2.6 to 5 million, a large number being employed in the urban industrial sector, in the brick kilns and construction sites of Punjab and Haryana. If the definition for bonded labour as stated by the Supreme Court of India is used the number of bonded labourers would be 75-80 million about 10% of the population. Bonded labourers also exist in the agrarian sector of 10 States in the Indian Union. It is estimated that there are 25 million bonded children in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Besides, in India alone more than 50 million child-labourers work in conditions indistinguishable from slavery.

Broader Problems:
Unpaid labour
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
02.11.2017 – 18:22 CET
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