Article 23(1) provides traffic in human beings and begar and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable In accordance with law. According to Article 24, no child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment.
The term, begar means compulsory work without payment. The practice was widely prevalent in the erstwhile princely States in India before the formation of the Constitution. It was a great evil and has therefore been abolished through Article 23(1). Article 23 embodies two declarations.
First, that traffic in human beings, beggar and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited. The prohibition applies not only to State but also to private persons, bodies and organisations. Second, any contravention of the prohibition shall be an offence punishable In accordance with the law.
Traffic In human beings” means selling and buying men and women like goods and chattels and It also includes immoral traffic in women and children for immoral and other purposes. Though slavery Is not expressly mentioned in Article 23, but it includes the expression, “Traffic in human beings”, as has been held In Dubar Goala v. Union of India, AIR 1952 Cal. 496.
Under Article 35 of the Constitution, Parliament is authorised to make laws for punishing acts prohibited by this Article. In pursuance of this Article, Parliament has passed “Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls’ Act, 1955”, for punishing acts which result in traffic in human beings.
Article 23 protects the Individual not only against the State but also against private persons. It imposes a positive obligation on the State to take steps to abolish evils in “traffic in human beings”, and beggar and other similar forms of forced labour wherever they are found.
Article 23 prohibits the system of “bonded labour” because it is a form of forced labour within the meaning of this Article. It is to be noted that the protection of this Article is available to both citizens and non-citizens.
In Peoples’ Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India, AIR 1982 S.C. 1473, the Supreme Court considered the scope and ambit of Article 23 In detail. The Court held that the scope of Article 23 is wide and unlimited and strikes at “traffic in human beings”, and beggar and other forms of “forced labour” wherever they are found.
It is not merely begar which is prohibited by Article 23 but also other forms of forced labour. Beggar is a form of forced labour under which a person is compelled to work without receiving any remuneration. Begar is violative of human dignity and contrary to basic human values.
In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, AIR 1984 S.C. 802, the Supreme Court held that when an action is initiated in a court through “Public Interest Litigation” alleging the existence of bonded labour, the Government should welcome It as It may give the government an opportunity to examine whether bonded labour system exists as well as to take appropriate steps to eradicate this system.
This is the constitutional obligation of the government under Article 23 which prohibits forced labour in any form. It was only in 1976 that Parliament passed Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act. 1976, providing for abolition of bonded labour system for eradicating economic and physical exploitation of the weaker sections of the society.
Article 24 provides that no child below 14 years of age shall be employed in any factory or mine or engaged in hazardous employment. This provision is certainly in the interest of public health and safety of life of children. Children are assets of the nation.
This is why in Article 39, Constitution imposes upon the State an obligation to ensure that the health and strength of workers, men, women and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength.
In Peoples’ Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India, AIR 1982 S.C. 1473, the Supreme Court held that Article 24 must operate “propria vigore” even if the prohibition laid down in it is not followed up by appropriate legislation.
In Labour Working on Salal Hydro Project v. State of J. & K., AIR 1984 S.C. 177, the Supreme Court has held that construction of buildings and erection of walls, etc. is a hazardous work and therefore under Article 24, no child below the age of fourteen years be allowed to work there.
This Article, however, does not prohibit employment of children in any innocent or harmless work.