Despite constitutional provisions and, more recently, laws against bonded labour in India, Pakistan and Nepal all three countries are still plagued by the spectre of slavery. In the Asia-Pacific region the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates a minimum of 9.5 million people in forced labour, the majority of who are in debt bondage. Debt bondage is defined in the UN Supplementary Convention on Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery (1956) as:
“the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services 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 towards the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined.”
Researchers agree that the majority of forced labourers reside in South Asia. However, there is no consensus on the scale of bonded labour within these countries. This is indicative of the failure by the states to undertake a systematic and sustained approach to the eradication of bonded labour. A systematic approach would include identification of individuals and families affected by this form of forced labour, release of bonded labourers and measures to ensure that, once released, they are not re-enslaved. When such governmental interventions have occurred, as a result of pressure from civil society, international organisations, or on the initiatives of the national courts, the governmental institutions of the three countries have shown their potential for making considerable in-roads into slavery practices across the region, even though their impacts have sometimes been undermined by poor management, planning and on occasion corruption. This in turn has meant that many of the rehabilitation efforts that have occurred have failed allowing many labourers to fall back into bondage. When there is no significant external or internal pressure the governments of the region have failed to protect the rights of their own citizens by maintaining committed anti-slavery action as a central aspect of government programmes.
To read the full report click here.
Anti-Slavery International is the world’s oldest international human rights organisation, and bases its work on the United Nations treaties against slavery campaigning for freedom from slavery for everyone, everywhere.