Section 16



Criminal liability Debt bondage

This provision punishes compelling a person to provide bonded labour with up to 3 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to 2,000 INR.


Despite the prohibition of debt bondage under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act in 1976, the practice is still widespread in India, partly due to the fact that the prosecution rate for these crimes remains extremely low, and in the event of a conviction, imprisonment penalties are hardly ever imposed.

Link to full text


Section 16. Punishment for enforcement of bonded labour. Any person who compels a person to render bonded labour will be punished with imprisonment of up to 3 years and a fine which may extend to INR 2,000.

Law /India / Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976

The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 provides for the abolition of the bonded labour system, with a view to preventing the exploitation of vulnerable sections of society.

This Act prohibits, criminalises and extinguishes any system of debt bondage, whether by agreement, custom or contract. The Act aims to achieve the following: (i) every bonded labourer is discharged from any obligation to provide such labour; (ii) the obligation to repay any bonded debt is extinguished; (iii) the property of bonded labourers shall be free of mortgage, charge, lien or other encumbrances and shall be restored to his possession; (iv) a bonded labourer shall not be evicted from a homestead or other residential premise he was occupying as part of the consideration for the bonded labour; and (v) no creditor may accept payment against an extinguished debt.

Indian courts have given a very broad, expansive interpretation to the definition of bonded labour. For example, where a person has provided labour or services to another and received a remuneration below the minimum wage, the Courts have ruled that the labour or service falls clearly within the scope of the prohibition of forced labour under the constitution.