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The issue of 'bonded labour came to the forefront as a national issue, when it was included in the old 20-Point Programme in 1975. It was the 5th point of the Programme which stated that "bonded labour, wherever it exists will be declared illegal." To implement this, Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Ordinance was promulgated and which was later on replaced by the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. It freed unilaterally all the bonded labourers from bondage with simultaneous liquidation of their debts.

1.1 Concept of Bonded Labour:

It is apparent that poverty and social exclusion contribute to forced labour even though they may not in and of themselves explain its prevalence. There is not a necessary correlation between poverty and forced labour — since field-based evidence seems to indicate that its existence is either sector and/or country-specific. In other words, poverty, social exclusion and denial of human rights may be necessary conditions, but they are not sufficient conditions to lead to forced labour. It is here that the greatest challenge to measuring the incidence of forced labour arise, as understanding better the contributory factors need not in and of itself lead to accurate estimates of the phenomena. And we see this at play even in deciphering through the Conceptual categories, where poverty, social exclusion and denial of human rights may be pointers in the right direction but they do not of themselves explain the concrete ways of thinking about of forced labour. The following expressions will clear the meaning of the forced/bonded labour. Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) [Article 2(i)] —The term forced or compulsory labour shall mean all work or service, which is exacted, from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which they said person has not offered himself voluntarily. The Royal Commission on Labour in India (1931) has defined bonded labour whereby "the labourer borrows money from the landlord under a contract to work until the debt is repaid. The debt tends to increase rather than diminish and man, and sometimes his family, is bound for life," UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery (1956) — Under this Convention debt bondage is defined as "the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal service or those of a person under his control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied toward the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined". As per I.L.O. Report on Stopping Forced Labour (2001) — The term (Bonded Labour) refers to a worker who rendered service under condition of bondage arising from economic consideration, notably indebtedness through a loan or an advance. Where debt is the root cause of bondage, the implication is that the worker (or dependents or heirs) is tied to a particular creditor for a specified or unspecified period until the loan is repaid. As per the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976: According to section 2 (e) of the act "bonded labour" means any labour or service rendered under the bonded labour system". A labourer who incurs, or has, or is presumed to have incurred a bonded debt is a bonded labour as per section 2(f) of the act. Thus bonded labour system means the system of forced, or partly forced, labour under which a debtor enters, or has, or is presumed to have, entered, into an agreement with the creditor to the effect that he would render, by himself or through any member of his family, or any person dependent on him, labour or service to the creditor, or for the benefit of the creditor, for a specified period or for any unspecified period, either without wages or for nominal wages, or the freedom of employment or other means of livelihood for a specified period or for an unspecified period, or forfeit the right to move freely throughout the territory of India, or forfeit the right to appropriate or sell at market value any of his property or product of his labour or the labour of a member of his family or any person dependent on him; and includes the system of forced, or partly forced, labour under which a surety for a debtor enters, or has, or is presumed to have, entered, into an agreement with the creditor to the effect that in the event of the failure of the debtor to repay the debt, he would render the bonded labour on behalf of the debtor-Section 2(g) Thus bondage is a situation in which a debtor made a pledge of his personal services (or of those of a person under his control) as security for a debt. The value of those services is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt. Or the length and nature of those services are not limited and defined. Bonded labour often occurs in situations of extreme poverty. The child's labour serves as repayment of the debt taken, but the amount of labour, hours, etc. is rarely fixed. In Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan millions of people work as bonded labourers, firmly rooted in the caste system and the feudal agricultural relationships. The Supreme Court also through its various judgments has given a very broad, liberal and expansive interpretation of the definition of the bonded labour. According to the interpretation given by the apex court, where a person provided labour or service to another for remuneration less than the minimum wage, the labour or service falls clearly within the scope and ambit of the words forced labour under the constitution.

1.2 The Constitutional Provisions against Bonded Labour:

The Constitution of India guarantees all its citizens-justice, social, economic and political; freedom or thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equity of status and opportunity and fraternity, dignity of individual and unity of the Nation.

Under Article 23:

Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour - Traffic in human beings and beggar and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law. Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from imposing compulsory service for public purposes, and in imposing such service the State shall not make any discrimination on grounds only on religion, race, caste or class or any of them.

Under Article 42

Provision for just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief - The State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief.

Under Article 43

Living wage, etc. for workers - The State shall endeavor to secure, by suitable legislation or economic organization or in any other way, to all workers, agricultural, industrial or otherwise, work and living wage, conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities and in particular the State shall endeavor to promote cottage industrial on an individual or cooperative basis in rural areas.Apart from that Under Section 374 of the IPC provision for unwilful employment has been made. The section clearly laid down that whoever unlawfully compels any person to labour against the will of that person, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

1.3 International Law on Bonded Labour Applicable in India

In addition to domestic laws, India is a party to numerous international human rights conventions and is thus legally bound by them. An extensive review is presented by the Human Rights Watch report on bonded labour in India. These laws include;

1.4 Convention on the Suppression of Slave Trade and Slavery, 1926

This convention requires signatories to "prevent and suppress the slave trade" and "to bring about, progressively and as soon as possible, the complete abolition of slavery in all its forms." It also obligates parties to "take all necessary measures to prevent compulsory or forced labour from 1,- , developing into conditions 61-W., INIWOM.WW1 .11 0 -mmor analogous to slavery". Convention on the Suppression of Slave Trade and Slavery, signed at Geneva, September 25, 1926; Protocol Amended thf; T.aviFny Convention, signed at Geneva, September 25, 1926, with annex, done at, New York, December 7, 1953, entered into force, December 7, 1953. A slave is someone "over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised." Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery, done at Geneva, September 7, 1956; entered into force, April 30, 1957 (Supplementary Convention).

1.5 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery, 1956

The supplementary convention on slavery offers further clarification of prohibited practices and refers specifically to debt bondage and child servitude as institutions similar to slavery.

1.6 Forced Labour Convention, 1930

The International Labour Organisation (I.L.O.) Forced Labour Convention requires signatories to "suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms in the shortest period possible" In 1957, the I.L.O. explicitly incorporated debt bondage and serfdom within its definition of forced labour. India, however, chose not to sign this convention.

1.7 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (I.C.C.P.R.), 1966

Article 8 of the I.C.C.P.R. prohibits slavery and the slave trade in all their forms, servitude, and forced or compulsory labour. Article 24 entitles all children to "the right to such measures of protection as are required by his status as a minor, on the part of his family, society and the State."

1.8 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (I.C.E.S.C.R.), 1966

Article 7 of the I.C.E.S.C.R. provides that States Parties shall "recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work." Article io requires Parties to protect "children and young persons... from economic and social exploitation".

1.9 Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989

Article 32: "States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or... be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development." States are directed to implement and ensure these protections.

Article 35: States Parties shall take all appropriate ... measures to prevent the abduction, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form." A significant portion of the bonded child labourers of India are trafficked from one state to another and some are sold outright.

Article 36: "States Parties shall protect the child against all other forms of exploitation prejudicial to any aspects of the child's welfare".

1.10 Human Rights Commission of India

National Human Rights Commission has also been involved in the monitoring of the implementation of the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act as per the directions of the Supreme Court in WP (Civil) No. 3922 of 1985 (PULL v State of Tamil Nadu & Others). The Commission monitors the Bonded Labour Act by obtaining a report from all states on a quarterly basis on the identification, release and rehabilitation of bonded labour. The commission has also been involved in sensitizing law enforcement and local government authorities to the issue of bonded labour.