or Pawn Slavery

Bonded child working in brick kiln factory
(Photo taken by Mathias Heng during Mission funded by the Society.  Copyright Mathias Heng)

Pawnage or pawn slavery is a form of servitude akin to bonded labor under which the debtor provides another human being as security or collateral for the debt.  Until the debt (including interest on it) is paid off, the creditor has the use of the labor of the pawn.

It is now mostly found in India and Pakistan.  Pawns are usually children.  Their parents deliver them up to the creditor as security for the debt.

Pawnage was very widespread in Africa until well into the last century.

Pawnage was first referred to in the 1843 Slave Trade Act.  Section 2 of the Slave Trade Act 1843 enacted by the British Parliament declared "persons holden in servitude as pledges for debt", ie, bonded laborers, to "be slaves or persons intended to be dealt with as slaves" for the purpose of the Slave Trade Act 1824 and the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

Bonded child working in brick kiln factory
(Photo taken by Mathias Heng during Mission funded by the Society.  Copyright Mathias Heng).

During the 1950s the Committee of Experts observed that pawnage was then widespread in Africa and recommended that it be dealt with in a United Nations convention.  It is not dealt with in Article 1(a) of the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery 1956, parties to the Convention are required to adopt measures to bring about the complete abolition of debt bondage, which is defined to include not only what the Society describes as bonded labor, but also pawnage or pawn slavery, ie, "the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of [the]  personal services [...] of 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".  

The material in this report is based on a Mission to South Asia by the Society's Secretary-General.

Links to other pages dealing with this issue:

Bonded labor in the carpet weaving industry

Rugmark rugs and carpets

Goods made by child labor

Different forms of child labor

Child labor generally

Society's overseas programs in Africa and Asia

Internet links:

Nepal police free bonded child laborers in the carpet industry

The Society is not responsible for the content of external internet links

 of external internet sites. 






  2003 by the Anti-Slavery Society. The text on any page may be reproduced provided that the source is acknowledged.  This does not apply to photos.