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The Global Legal Monitor is an online publication from the Law Library of Congress covering legal news and developments worldwide. It is updated frequently and draws on information from official national legal publications and reliable press sources. You can find previous news by searching the Global Legal Monitor.

United Nations: Report on Debt Bondage

(Sept. 26, 2016) On September 15, 2016, Urmila Bhoola, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, presented a report on slavery in the modern world, in particular debt bondage, to the 33rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), being held September 13-30, 2016.  (Debt Bondage Remains the Most Prevalent Form of Forced Labour Worldwide – New UN Report, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) website (Sept. 15, 2016); Calendar of Meetings and Events 2016, OHCHR website (last visited Sept. 20, 2016).)

Bhoola stated, “[e]ven though it takes place worldwide across many sectors of the economy, and is a form of enslavement with deep historical roots, debt bondage – also known as bonded labour – is still not universally understood.” She said it “remains one of the most prevalent forms of modern slavery in all regions of the world despite being banned in international law and most domestic jurisdictions.” (Debt Bondage Remains the Most Prevalent Form of Forced Labour Worldwide – New UN Report, supra.)

Definition of Debt Bondage 

The Report explains that debt bondage is addressed in the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery of 1956 as one of four practices similar to slavery or types of servitude (the others being serfdom, and certain kinds of exploitation of women and of children). (Report of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Including Its Causes and Consequences (Report), A/HRC/33/46, ¶ 5 (July 4, 2016) (click on E to view English text); Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery (Supplementary Convention) (adopted Apr. 30, 1956, entered into force Apr. 30, 1957), OHCHR website.) Servitude can be viewed as “human exploitation falling short of slavery,” and debt bondage, while a type of servitude, can be characterized as slavery if the characteristics of ownership are present.  (Report, supra.)

Debt bondage, although not included in the definition of forced labor under the International Labour Organization (ILO) Forced Labour Convention, can be a form of forced labor, and the two practices overlap. (Id.)  The Convention refers to debt bondage as “work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.” (Id.; CO29 – Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) (adopted June 28, 1930, entered into force May 2, 1932), ILO website.)

The Supplementary Convention definition of debt bondage is broad enough, the Report comments, to cover workers in extremely different situations, “from in debt bondage in systemic, archaic, feudal systems of slave-labour exploitation,” to “migrant workers from developing countries who leave their countries accruing debt to cover the costs associated with recruitment.” (Report, supra, ¶ 8.)  In addition, there is a close relationship between debt bondage and various forms of exploitation, “including forced labour, the abuse of migrant workers, trafficking, and the worst forms of child labour.”  (Id.)

The Report further notes that debt bondage entails a power imbalance between the employer/ creditor and the worker/debtor that “often increases the worker’s vulnerability to further human rights abuses,” as “employers and creditors are reported to adjust interest rates, to make further deductions arbitrarily as penalties for perceived poor performance, and/or to charge high prices for basic goods or working tools resulting in an increase of the debt and the perpetuation of deeply exploitative situations.” (Id.  ¶ 7.)  In her remarks to the HRC, Bhoola emphasized that “[p]eople in debt bondage end up working for no wages or wages below the minimum in order to repay the debts contracted or advances received, even though the value of the work they carry out exceeds the amount of their debts.”  (Debt Bondage Remains the Most Prevalent Form of Forced Labour Worldwide – New UN Report, supra.)

For purposes of comparison, the definition of slavery under the 1926 Slavery Convention is as follows:

(1) Slavery is the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.

(2) The slave trade includes all acts involved in the capture, acquisition or disposal of a person with intent to reduce him to slavery; all acts involved in the acquisition of a slave with a view to selling or exchanging him; all acts of disposal by sale or exchange of a slave acquired with a view to being sold or exchanged, and, in general, every act of trade or transport in slaves. (Slavery Convention (signed on Sept. 25, 1926, entered into force on Mar. 9, 1927), OHCHR website.)

The People in Debt Bondage

Although there is reportedly no authoritative estimate of how many people worldwide are in debt bondage, the ILO provided a figure in 2012 of 20.9 million people being victims of forced labor of all forms. (Report, supra, ¶ 10.) According to Bhoola, while “these figures refer to all forms of forced labour, … given the close interrelationship with debt bondage, the figures offer some insight into debt bondage prevalence trends globally.”  (Id.)  Of the 20.9 million, the Asia-Pacific region has the highest absolute number of forced labor victims, “11.7 million, or 56 per cent of the global total,” with the second-highest number in Africa and the third-highest in Latin America and the Caribbean.  (Id.)

Some of the factors Bhoola enumerated as leading people and families into debt bondage include “structural and systemic inequality, poverty, discrimination, and precarious labour migration.” (Debt Bondage Remains the Most Prevalent Form of Forced Labour Worldwide – New UN Report, supra.)  Some of the factors that interfere with such persons being released from debt bondage include “[w]eak or non-existent financial and other regulatory frameworks, lack of access to justice, lack of law enforcement and governance as well as corruption.”  (Id.)

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Tajikistan: Fines for Language Mistakes

(Sept. 26, 2016) On August 1, 2016, the State Committee on Language and Terminology under Tajikistan’s Cabinet of Ministers announced that it will issue fines for violating Tajik language norms and using words in the Farsi language that are not clearly understood by the audience of print and broadcast media. The fine will be in the amount of US$75-$100 for individuals and US$150-$200 for officials.  (Fines for Language Norms Violations Introduced in Tajikistan, NEWSRU.COM (Aug. 1, 2016) (in Russian).)

A special group of inspectors tasked with monitoring newspapers and TV and radio programs has been created within the Committee. According to the Head of the Committee, Tajik journalists often use words the meaning of which is not clear to an ordinary person, write with grammatical errors, and do not meet the existing language standards.  (Id.)  These errors are considered by the Committee to be in direct violation of the nation’s Language Act.  (Id.; Law of the Republic of Tajikistan No. 553 of October 5, 2009 on the State Language of Tajikistan, SPINFORM.RU online subscription service (in Russian).)

According to one of the Tajik philologists who commented on the Committee’s decision, the purity of the language has been lost because of the common use of Persian loan words.  (Fines for Language Norms Violations Introduced in Tajikistan, supra.)  The Tajik language belongs to the Iranian language group and is a Central Asian variation of the Persian language, with many additions from Russian.  (Tajikistan, BRITANNICA.COM (last updated May 7, 2016).)

The recent announcement appears to be in line with Tajik government policies aimed at promoting native culture. Following the amendments to the Law on State Registration of Civil Status Acts passed in March 2016, the Ministry of Justice issued guidelines prescribing the insertion of names in a traditional Tajik-sounding form in civil status registries and certificates of birth and marriage. (Law of the Republic of Tajikistan No. 188 of April 29, 2006 (last amended Mar. 15, 2016) on State Registration of Civil Status Acts, SPINFORM.RU (in Russian).)

New rules were also introduced for registration of names of newborn children. The law states that each Tajik individual has the right to a “personal, patronymic, and family name that is based on historic values and Tajik national culture.”  (Id. art. 20(1).)  The government approved a list of Tajik names that can be given to a child born in Tajikistan and used for a child’s birth registration.  The guidelines prohibit giving a child a name that is “alien to Tajik national culture, that might reflect names of goods, things, animals, or birds, or that has an offensive or disparaging meaning.”  (Tajikization of Last Names”: Government of Tajikistan Prohibited Inserting Russian-Sounding Names in New Passports, NEWSRU.COM (Apr. 29, 2016) (in Russian).)

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Czech Republic: Legislature Approves Draft Amendments to Tax Law

(Sept. 23, 2016) The Czech Parliament approved a draft amendment of the Income Tax Law and the Criminal Code on September 6, 2016. The legislation will next go to the President for approval and will become effective on the first day of the second month after it is published in the Collection of Laws, the official gazette. The amended provisions are designed to make it easier to identify income on which taxes have not been paid by requiring an accounting of the origins of taxable property. (Czech Republic: Bill on Origin of Property Approved by Parliament, TAX NEWS SERVICE (Sept. 9, 2016), International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation (IBFD) online subscription database. )

Taxpayers may be liable for additional tax if they have underpaid and, if the amount of their property is valued at more than CZK5 million (about US$207,650) over the amount of income they have declared, they may be subject to sanctions. If a taxpayer cannot account for the origin of his or her income or holdings and the tax bill may exceed CZK2 million, the amount of tax actually due will be estimated and penalties may rise to 100% of that estimated tax liability. (Id.)

The proposal to develop legislation on the subject of accounting for assets for tax purposes came from the Ministry of Finance in October 2014. (Czech Republic: Concept of Proposed Legislation on Origin of Property Presented, TAX NEWS SERVICE (Oct. 23, 2014),IBFD.) On May 15, 2015, the Ministry announced that it had sent a draft of the legislation to the government for approval, and in July 2015, the proposed law was sent to the bicameral legislature. (Czech Republic: Bill on Origin of Property Submitted to Government, TAX NEWS SERVICE (May 18, 2015), IBFD; Czech Republic: Bill on Origin of Property Submitted to Parliament, TAX NEWS SERVICE (July 9, 2015), IBFD.)

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Aruba: Same-Sex Partnerships Recognized by Law

(Sept. 23, 2016) On September 8, 2016, the Parliament of Aruba, one of the constituent countries that comprise the Kingdom of the Netherlands, voted to amend the Aruban Civil Code provisions on marriage so as to officially recognize same-sex registered partnerships. The amendment will give same-sex couples the same benefits granted to married partners under the Code, such as the right to pension benefits in the case of a spouse’s death and the right to make medical decisions on the spouse’s behalf.  (Aruba Parliament Approves Civil Unions for Same-Sex Couples, CURAÇAO CHRONICLE (Sept. 12, 2016); Steven Wildberger, Aruba Votes To Recognize Same-Sex Unions, PAPER CHASE (Sept.10, 2016); Boek 1 Personen- en familierecht [Book 1: Persons and Family Law], Landsverordening bevattende de tekst van Boek 1 voor een nieuw Burgerlijk Wetboek van Aruba [State Ordinance Containing the Text of Book 1 of a New Civil Code of Aruba], AB 2001 no. 89 (as last amended effective 2013), CENTRAAL WETTENREGISTER (Jan. 13, 2014) (click on pdf icon to view); Boek 4: Erfrecht [Book 4: Succession], Landsverordening bevattende de tekst van Boek 1 voor een nieuw Burgerlijk Wetboek van Aruba, AB 1989 no. GT 100 (as last amended 2013), CENTRAAL WETTENREGISTER (Jan. 13, 2014) (click on pdf icon to view).)

The 21-member unicameral legislature approved the amendment in an 11-5 vote, with four members abstaining. (Aruba Parliament Approves Civil Unions for Same-Sex Couples, supra.)  In the past, same-sex couples would have to marry in the Netherlands and then have their marriage certificate recognized in Aruba under a law that requires recognition of official documents throughout the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  Now, same-sex partners will no longer have to go through this process; while they cannot marry in Aruba, their rights as partners in a civil union will be recognized.  (Id.)  Reportedly, Sint Maarten and Curacao, the other two Caribbean constituent countries of the Kingdom, do not allow same-sex marriage or registered partnerships.  (Id.)

The formalization of relations between people of the same sex has been a sensitive issue in Aruba, which is predominantly Catholic, and debate on the new legislation is reported to have sharply divided the island population. Prior to the passage of the amending law there were large demonstrations over it near the Parliament in the capital city of Oranjestad. (Aruba staat partnerregistratie homo’s toe, REFORMATORISCH DAGBLAD (Sept. 9, 2016).)

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Brazil: Federal Supreme Court Recognizes Dual Paternity

(Sept. 23, 2016) On September 21, 2016, the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal, STF) held that a child’s relationship with one man through socio-affective paternity does not exempt the child’s biological father from paternal responsibility.  A majority of ministers of the STF dismissed an appeal by a biological father from a decision that imposed paternal obligations despite the child’s ties with another father with socio-affective paternity.  (622 – Prevalência da paternidade socioafetiva em detrimento da paternidade biológica [622 – Predominance of Socio-Affective Paternity over Biological Paternity], RE 898060 (Sept. 21, 2016), STF website; Paternidade Socioafetiva Não Exime de Responsabilidade o Pai Biológico, Decide STF [Socio-Affective Paternity Does Not Exempt Responsibility of Biological Father, Decides STF], NOTÍCIAS STF (Sept. 21, 2016)). With the decision, the STF recognized the possible dual paternity of children and held that biological and affective parents have the same obligations. (Id.)

Minister Luiz Fux, who wrote the opinion, highlighted the fact that “in the Civil Code of 1916, the concept of family was focused on marriage, with the ‘hideous distinction’ between legitimate, recognized (legitimados), and illegitimate children, [and] with filiation being based on the rigid presumption of the husband’s paternity.”  (Paternidade Socioafetiva Não Exime de Responsabilidade o Pai Biológico, Decide STF, supra.) According to Fux,

the paradigm [of the Code] was not the affection between family members or biological origin, but only the centrality of marriage. However, with the evolution of family relations and the acceptance of new forms of union, the central axis of the discipline of filiation shifted from the Civil Code to the Federal Constitution. With the Constitution of 1988 a reversal of purpose in the field of civil matters is necessary: the legal rule is replaced to suit the peculiarities and demands of various interpersonal relationships, rather than imposing a static frame based on marriage between a man and a woman. (Id.)

 

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