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Involuntary servitude

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Title: Involuntary servitude  
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Subject: Penal labor in the United States, Debt bondage, Human trafficking in Saudi Arabia, Peon, Human trafficking
Collection: American Legal Terms, Debt Bondage, Human Rights Abuses, Penal Labor in the United States
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Involuntary servitude

Involuntary servitude is a United States legal and constitutional term for a person laboring against that person's will to benefit another, under some form of coercion other than the worker's financial needs. While laboring to benefit another occurs also in the condition of slavery, involuntary servitude does not necessarily connote the complete lack of freedom experienced in chattel slavery; involuntary servitude may also refer to other forms of unfree labor. Involuntary servitude is not dependent upon compensation or its amount.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution makes involuntary servitude illegal under any U.S. jurisdiction whether at the hands of the U.S. government or in the private sphere, except as punishment for a crime: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

The Supreme Court has held, in Butler v. Perry, 240 U.S. 328 (1916), that the Thirteenth Amendment does not prohibit "enforcement of those duties which individuals owe to the state, such as services in the army, militia, on the jury, etc." Onerous long term alimony and spousal support orders, premised on a proprietary interest retained by former marital partners in one another's persons, have also been allowed in many states, though they may in practice embody features of involuntary servitude.[1]


  • Jurisdictions 1
    • Malaysia 1.1
    • Philippines 1.2
  • Other interpretations of involuntary servitude 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5



The Constitution of Malaysia, Part II, article 6, states:[2]

  1. No person shall be held in slavery.
  2. All forms of forced labour are prohibited, but Parliament may by law provide for compulsory service for national purposes.
  3. Work incidental to the serving of a sentence of imprisonment imposed by a court of law shall not be taken to be forced labour within the meaning of this Article.
  4. Where by any written law the whole or any part of the functions of any public authority is to be carried on by another public authority, for the purpose of enabling those functions to be performed the employees of the first mentioned public authority shall be bound to serve the second mentioned public authority shall not be taken to be forced labour within the meaning of this Article, and no such employee shall be entitled to demand any right from either the first mentioned or the second mentioned public authority by reason of the transfer of his employment.


The Constitution of the Philippines, article III, section 18, states that "No involuntary servitude in any form shall exist except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted."[3]

Other interpretations of involuntary servitude

The Libertarian Party of the United States and other libertarians consider military conscription to be involuntary servitude in the sense of the Thirteenth Amendment (the US Supreme Court did not accept this view in Arver v. United States). Some libertarians consider compulsory schooling involuntary servitude. John Taylor Gatto, a retired schoolteacher and libertarian activist critical of compulsory schooling writes of what he terms "The Cult Of Forced Schooling".[4] Many libertarians consider income taxation a form of involuntary servitude. Republican Congressman Ron Paul has described income tax as "a form of involuntary servitude,[5] and has written, "... things like Selective Service and the income tax make me wonder how serious we really are in defending just basic freedoms.[6]

Some have also argued that, should Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), be overturned by the United States Supreme Court, a constitutional right to abortion could still be sustained on the basis that denying it would subject women to involuntary servitude contrary to the Thirteenth Amendment.[7] However, no U.S. court has yet accepted such an argument.[8] Differing views have been expressed as to whether the argument is so unpersuasive as to be "frivolous".[9] One major difficulty with the argument relates to the claim that pregnancy and child-bearing are within the scope of the term "servitude".[10]

See also


  1. ^ Sciarrino, Alfred J. (2003), Alimony: Peonage or Involuntary Servitude (PDF), American Journal of Trial Advocates 67 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Gatto, John Taylor (2001), "Chapter 16. A conspiracy Against Ourselves", The Underground History of American Education, Oxford Village Press,  
  5. ^ Ron Paul (April 13, 2009), Fewer Taxes for Real Economic Stimulus 
  6. ^  
  7. ^ Koppelman, Andrew, "Forced Labor: A Thirteenth Amendment Defense of Abortion", 84 Northwestern University Law Review 480 (1990)
  8. ^ Roe v. Rampton, 394 F. Supp. 677 (D Utah 1975) (Ritter C.J. dissenting); Jane L. v. Bangerter, 794 F. Supp. 1537 (D Utah 1992).
  9. ^ Jane L. v. Bangerter, 61 F.3d 1505, 1514–1515 (10th Cir. 1995).
  10. ^ Vieira, Norman, "Hardwick and the Right of Privacy" 55 University of Chicago Law Review 1181, 1189–1191 (1988).

External links

  • The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today – video report by Democracy Now!
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