The closest common examples I can think of are jurisdictions where prostitution is semi-legalized or legalized, jurisdictions where minors can work on behest of their guardian, and military service in remote areas.

All these imply some ability to bind one’s future self, or a dependent’s future self, into a situation of constrained freedom. And of an authority that recognizes and enforces such.

Historically, debtor’s prisons with penal labor effectively enabled that in most countries, and which is still the practice in some.

The clearest rationale for the existence of such a right is in any country with a formal security classification system. A person holding a security clearance becomes subject to certain limits on their future actions, beyond that of that of the regular citizenry, which they cannot unilaterally remove even after leaving the position that required it. This appears to be quite close to contracting oneself into an indefinite, limited, servitude.

  • 5
    None of your "examples" (prostitution, minors working, military service) are valid metaphors for true servitude; they are life choices or severable, contractual arrangements. And your "rationale" (formal security classification system) for the existence of such a "right" for servitude means nothing; maintaining secrets or security after the fact is in no way comparable to servitude. Contacts can't contract for illegal acts, like servitude. See law.stackexchange.com/questions/64407/… Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 4:50
  • 1
    Prostitution is not necessarily servitude. It depends on what happens if the sex worker changes their mind after the contract is made. If the client can physically enforce going ahead anyway then that is servitude. If the contract is "frustrated" (along with the client) then the client just gets their money back, and it is not servitude. Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 13:52
  • @BlueDogRanch If someone can be criminally prosecuted for breaking the terms of a security clearance, then that is a contracted limit on future speech at the very least?
    – M. Y. Zuo
    Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 18:12

2 Answers 2


NO (mostly).

Servitude means that the employer, or owner of the indenture, or whatever, can use physical force to make the indentee carry out the work given. If the indentee runs away they can be arrested and forcibly returned.

This is distinct from the law of contracts. If Alice agrees to provide labour for Bob and subsequently fails to fulfil the contract then Alice may have to pay damages, but that is all. Even in cases of crminial fraud where Alice never meant to provide the labour in the first place, the penalty is defined by law, and would not be the provision of the contracted labour.

As the OP notes, military service is generally an indenture-style contract; desertion is a crime. However the other party in that case is the government acting under law rather than a third party acting in their own self-interest.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights prohibits all forms of servitude.

  • What about the case of security clearances where it is a crime to reveal secrets that may be corporate (private party) secrets and which may not be directly related to the government?
    – M. Y. Zuo
    Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 18:10
  • That is just a general obligation to keep secrets. Anyone coming into posession of government secrets is required to keep the secrets whether or not they are employees. Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 19:04
  • That would at least be an indenture of their future speech then? Even if they are fired through no fault of their own, they can still, theoretically, be prosecuted for discussing it after. And it seems quite possible a judge and/or jury would accept that line of argument if the secrets were important enough. The worst case I can imagine is someone working at a super top secret facility getting fired during their probationary period and they can no longer even leaving the country or interact with foreign nationals without heavy scrutiny for the remainder of their lives.
    – M. Y. Zuo
    Commented Sep 6, 2021 at 0:03
  • Not in the sense of servitude. You are playing games with words. Commented Sep 6, 2021 at 6:17
  • So in what sense would the permanent indenture of their future speech be?
    – M. Y. Zuo
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 0:46


It’s called a contract - in return for some benefit, you agree to limit your future actions. You can contract for yourself but you generally bind another to a contract although legal guardians can make decisions for their wards.

  • 2
    There is a distinction between contract law and servitude. If I break a contract I can be sued for monetary damages. If I break a servitude indenture then I can be arrested and bought back in chains. Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 13:53

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