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Debt bondage ( obnoxiation ) is the legal status or situation of an insolvent debtor who has fallen into bondage . As security against the creditor he has his work force pledge , but said he has no chance to pay off its debt by the work done and get free again. The believer alone and arbitrarily can decide on the type and duration of the dependency. This results in a permanent, slavery-like dependency relationship that is characterized by one-sided exploitation . According to a definition by the United Nations , it can also be the case that the debtor pledges the labor of a dependent person.


Early civilizations

The Hammurabi Codex mentions debt bondage in the context of a rule that the debtor's wife and children had to be released after three years. Among the Sumerians there was the so-called amargi , a public debt relief, which led to the fact that the children of indebted families were literally left “back to their mother”.

In the Jewish Torah there are rules according to which in every sabbatical year ( shmitah שמיטה), i.e. every seventh year, debt servants should be redeemed from their bondage regardless of their social status (Deuteronomy 15: 1-2). For this purpose, every 50th year after the seventh of seven Shabbat years, i.e. after every 49 years, full debt relief is to be granted, hereditary land to be returned ( land reform ) and debt bondage to be lifted.


In ancient times, debt bondage was a means of collecting money debts among the Greeks , Romans , Teutons and Gaul (i.e. a form of execution ). The debtor was awarded the creditor as a slave because of unpaid monetary debts, especially if he had undertaken to pay to avoid debt bondage : to work off the debt and even with the right to adhere to the debtor's body. According to one theory, this meant the right to literally cut the debt slave to pieces. However, this theory is based on a dubious translation of the III. Panel of the Twelve Tables and on the lack of knowledge of an as -cast fragments designated currency ( aes rude ). According to another theory, the debtor was merely sold ( trans tiberim ) and the proceeds obtained were proportionally distributed among the creditors. This also explains the further provision Si plus minusve secuerunt, se fraude esto.

In Athens this right was abolished by Solon as part of the Seisachtheia . In Rome, debt bondage was introduced in 326 BC. Abolished by the law "Lex Poetelia Papiria de nexis". However, culpability is still mentioned in the imperial era , when it was supplemented by the foreclosure auction ( missio in possessionem ).

middle Ages

The practice of debt bondage lasted into the Middle Ages and was replaced by pure private detention and, at the beginning of the early modern period, by public guilty detention in the debt tower .

Modern times

Peonaje was a type of bondage that was imposed on the Indians in the Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain . A legacy of the Spanish colonizers, rooted in the feudal past of the motherland, it continued to develop on the latifundia after independence. Peonaje was a privilege that enabled the landlord to force the peons (farm workers) to work for him on their farms for free until their debts were paid off. This obligation, payable through future work, was transferable from parents to children, and it eventually turned into a form of debt bondage. Peonaje became a constant source of abuse because the landowner himself determined the value of the work. It was widely regarded as one of the causes of Mexico's social and political instability during the nineteenth century and was abolished in the early twentieth century.

The French and English also used the concept of debt bondage in their colonization projects. The servants or "apprentices" who were recruited for the colonies had to commit themselves for three years for the French and for (initially) up to seven years for the English or were obliged to do so by their relatives. Once there, however, they were “treated far worse” by their masters than the black slaves, since they had to “spare the blacks more” than a white man, since they had the aforementioned slaves for life, while the labor of the white debt servants was only permanent debt bondage could be exploited. In addition to the often tough colonization work and the stressful climate, hunger, flogging and brutal treatment of the masters led to frequent deaths among the servants. In the case of the English, it is also said to have been widespread to treat the servants significantly worse at the end of the commitment period in order to force them to agree to be sold to another master again for up to seven years.

Forced apprenticeship ("Zwangslehre") was a state-sanctioned legal form in states of the USA that had abolished slavery. After the end of the American Civil War, debt bondage was one of the methods used by plantation owners and southern companies to obtain cheap labor, along with convict leasing . The so-called black codes provided the pretext to pick up people of color and to sentence them to fines that they could not usually pay. Plantation owners or companies showed themselves willing to pay the fine for the convicted, provided that they also sign a debt bondage contract, which forced the convicted to settle the payment through labor. Douglas A. Blackmon used numerous examples in his Pulitzer Prize- winning book Slavery by Another Name to show how corrupt justices of the peace, sheriffs and entrepreneurs or plantation owners created a system of supplying cheap labor. Bondage, similar to convict leasing, was banned early on, but compliance with this ban was less verifiable. In 1921, the plantation owner John S. Williams and his overseer Clyde Manning demonstrably murdered at least 11 black workers who were under bonded labor contracts. After he was visited by FBI agents, Williams feared prosecution for debt bondage, but described it as a common practice in the first conversation with the agents. The FBI agents' visit would probably have had no consequences for Williams if the decaying bodies of the murdered had not appeared in the waters of Jasper County, Georgia weeks later . Debt bondage can be proven in the USA until 1941. On October 13, 1941, Charles E. Bledsoe pleaded guilty in federal court in Mobile, Alabama, to having detained a black man named Martin Thompson against his will on the basis of a bonded bond. Bledsoe was sentenced to a $ 100 fine and six months suspended prison sentence.

Kamaiya was a Nepalese debt bondage system that existed until the end of the 20th century.

Todays situation

Debt bondage in connection with wage slavery arises when employees are forced to obtain accommodation, work and food as debtors from the employer before starting work and during the employment relationship, and for this the wages are almost entirely withheld by the employer (company store system). Even today debt bondage - although banned as a form of slavery worldwide - is widespread in many countries, for example in Pakistan and India (where it is called bonded labor ) or in Latin America (where it is called peonaje - bondage). It is considered to be the most widespread form of the "new slavery". One famous victim of debt bondage was the Pakistani boy Iqbal Masih , who was sold to a carpet manufacturer as a debt servant at the age of four.

Debt bondage as an anti-Semitic and extremely right-wing battle term

As stated on the website of the Brandenburg State Center for Political Education , the term debt bondage is used in the present by extreme right-wing actors as a " right-wing extremist argument with which images of the enemy of all kinds, including anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism , are called" .

Legal situation in Germany

Debt bondage is forbidden in Germany and is a criminal offense: § 233 StGB - human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation.


See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Debt bondage  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon (1908): Obnoxiation at
  2. See Art. 1 lit. a of the "Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery" of September 7, 1956 (Federal Law Gazette 1958 II p. 203). Online at
  3. ^ Caius Julius Caesar : De Bello Gallico , book 6 / chap. 13
  4. Dieter Flach : The laws of the early Roman republic: text and commentary , Darmstadt 1994, p. 126, with note 95 and P. 127.
  5. cf. Christian Delacampagne: The History of Slavery. Düsseldorf, Zurich 2004 (orig. 2002), p. 74
  6. Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin in: The American sea robbers, discovered, in a current description of the largest, by the French and English sea prey, against the Spaniards in America, perpetrated robbery and cruelty ... together with a short report of the cron Spain makes and riches in America, as well as from all the most distinguished Christian places there: put on, supported and enjoyed by AO of all robberies understood here: with beautiful figurines, and true conterfeytes, decorated. , Nürnberg, C. Riegels, 1679, p. 103 f (digitized version of the Library of Congress )
  7. Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin in: The American sea robbers, discovered, in a current description of the largest, by the French and English sea prey, against the Spaniards in America, perpetrated robbery and cruelty ... together with a short report of the cron Spain makes and riches in America, as well as from all the most distinguished Christian places there: put on, supported and enjoyed by AO of all robberies understood here: with beautiful figurines, and true conterfeytes, adorned. , Nürnberg, C. Riegels, 1679, p. 108 (digitized version of the Library of Congress )
  8. ^ Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name , pp. 363 to 367.
  9. ^ Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name , p. 363.
  10. ^ Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name , pp. 363 to 367.
  11. Debt bondage