A hidden crime that exploits labourers for profit.
Bonded Labour is an oppressive form of forced labour where, due to a debt or other obligation (customary, caste-based, economic consideration), the labourer forfeits certain basic rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Physical violence, verbal insults, brute force and sexual abuse are often common elements in bonded labour making it a serious human rights crime.
The most common form of bonded labour usually entails an advance. Victims accept a petty cash advance from the employer, agreeing to repay the amount through their services. Often, the labourer moves into the worksite with his/her entire family. Once at the worksite, labourers are curtailed from moving around freely, denied the chance to supplement their wages through alternate employment or by selling their goods and also refused the right to be paid the State-recommended wages.
They are told that their freedom will be restored only upon repayment of the advance. However, as the labourer soon realises, the entire system has been designed to make repayment impossible. Abysmally low wages, exorbitant interest rates and falsified account-keeping ensure that the illiterate labourer is trapped for years, sometimes generations.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) lists bonded labour as one of the various forms of Human Trafficking in India. Human trafficking is the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them. Most times, people are exploited for sex, labour or organs. Human trafficking is a serious offence and can be tried under Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
In most cases where people have been trafficked for labour, the conditions are very similar to bonded labour. Most times, bonded labour offenders can be tried both under the Bonded Labour Act as well as under Section 370.
How IJM Works
IJM receives information about victims of bonded labour through its interaction with the vulnerable community, grassroots NGOs and the government. IJM then collaborates with the State and District government officials, police and police units like the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU), and quasi-judicial bodies like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to bring victims out of the worksite.
IJM helps rescue victims of bonded labour by collaborating with State and District government officials, police and police units like the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU), and quasi-judicial bodies like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Between 1999 and 2015, IJM has helped facilitate the rescue of over 10,000 bonded labourers across India.
Rescue is only the first step towards freedom. Healing and being reintegrated into mainstream society is a much slower and more arduous process. IJM continues to walk alongside rescued victims for the next two years, helping them make healthy and empowered decisions. To meet individual needs, IJM’s social workers create customised rehabilitation plans for individual survivors.
Bring criminals to justice
IJM believes that rescuing and rehabilitating survivors alone is not sufficient. To make justice sustainable, offenders need to be made accountable for the crimes they have committed. IJM continues to assist the police, the district administration, prosecutors and the court to ensure protection for survivors and penalty in accordance with the law for offenders.
Support existing government mechanisms
IJM participates as resource persons on bonded labour trainings conducted by the State and District for the police and judiciary. We also work with the government to deliver capacity building programmes, and upon request, provide inputs on government-initiated programmes and procedures. Between 2010 and 2015, IJM trained over 12,000 government officials across India to identify and rescue bonded labourers.
Empower the community
IJM partners with grass-root NGOs and community-based organisations to empower the vulnerable community, educate them on their rights, and make them aware of the government provisions available to them. The process is a collaborative one, with IJM demystifying the legal system and making it more approachable for the vulnerable.