Article 23 of the Indian Constitution: Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour.

Article 23 of the Indian Constitution: Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour.
Posted on 09-07-2023

Article 23 of the Indian Constitution: Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour.

Article 23 of Part III of the Indian Constitution is a fundamental right that prohibits trafficking in human beings, forced labor, and other forms of exploitation. This article aims to protect the dignity and freedom of individuals and ensure that they are not subjected to any form of exploitation or bondage. In this response, I will provide a comprehensive explanation of Article 23, its historical background, interpretation, scope, exceptions, and significance within the Indian legal framework.


1. Historical Background:

Article 23 finds its roots in the struggles against slavery and bonded labor during the colonial era. The framers of the Indian Constitution were inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and sought to incorporate similar protections for the citizens of India. Article 23 was included in the Constitution to address the prevalent social evils of trafficking and forced labor and provide constitutional safeguards against such practices.


2. Text of Article 23:

Article 23 of the Indian Constitution reads as follows:

"(1) Traffic in human beings and begar and other similar forms of forced labor are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offense punishable in accordance with law.

(2) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from imposing compulsory service for public purposes, and in imposing such service the State shall not make any discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste or class or any of them."


3. Interpretation and Scope:

a. Trafficking in Human Beings: Article 23 explicitly prohibits trafficking in human beings. Trafficking refers to the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or receipt of persons by means of threat, coercion, or deception for the purpose of exploitation. This includes various forms of trafficking, such as sex trafficking, labor trafficking, organ trafficking, and child trafficking. The objective of this provision is to safeguard the freedom and dignity of individuals by preventing their commodification and exploitation.

b. Forced Labor: Article 23 also prohibits forced labor, which refers to any work or service exacted from an individual under coercion or threat of penalty. Forced labor can take various forms, including bonded labor, where a person is compelled to work to repay a debt or other obligation. The provision aims to abolish such practices and ensure that individuals are not forced to work against their will.

c. Begar and Similar Forms of Forced Labor: Begar refers to the practice of forced labor without any remuneration. Article 23 specifically includes begar and similar forms of forced labor within its purview. This provision seeks to eradicate the exploitative practice of extracting unpaid labor from individuals.


4. Offenses and Punishments:

Article 23 declares the contravention of its provisions as an offense punishable by law. The punishment for offenses related to trafficking and forced labor is prescribed by relevant legislations enacted by the Parliament. The specific penalties may vary depending on the gravity of the offense and the applicable laws at the time.


5. Exception:

While Article 23 provides a general prohibition on trafficking and forced labor, it contains an exception in Clause (2). According to this clause, the State is permitted to impose compulsory service for public purposes. However, it mandates that the imposition of such service should not discriminate on the grounds of religion, race, caste, or class. This exception ensures that any mandatory service required by the State for public welfare is carried out without violating the principles of equality and non-discrimination.


6. Significance and Enforcement:

Article 23 is a vital provision that safeguards the fundamental rights of individuals and upholds their dignity and freedom. It reflects the commitment of the Indian Constitution to protect vulnerable sections of society from exploitation and oppression. The enforcement of Article 23 involves both legislative and judicial measures:

a. Legislative Measures: The Parliament has enacted several laws to give effect to the principles enshrined in Article 23. Notable among them are the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, 1976, and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. These laws provide a legal framework to combat trafficking, forced labor, and related offenses, and establish mechanisms for prevention, rescue, rehabilitation, and punishment.

b. Judicial Pronouncements: The Supreme Court of India has played a crucial role in interpreting and upholding the rights enshrined in Article 23. It has consistently recognized the fundamental nature of the right against trafficking and forced labor and has issued guidelines and directives to address these issues effectively. The Court has emphasized the need for proactive measures, awareness campaigns, victim rehabilitation, and the prosecution of offenders to eliminate these social evils.


In conclusion, Article 23 of the Indian Constitution prohibits trafficking in human beings, forced labor, and similar forms of exploitation. It reflects the commitment of the Indian Constitution to protect the dignity and freedom of individuals. Through legislative measures and judicial pronouncements, the Indian legal framework aims to effectively enforce the provisions of Article 23, combat trafficking and forced labor, and ensure the welfare and well-being of all citizens.

Thank You