Debt Incarceration A multi country research study prepared by Mayer Brown International LLP

CoverDebt incarceration is an issue that GALA is particularly concerned about. The act of incarcerating a debtor for failing to repay loans or credit is incompatible with international agreements such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Despite this, in Tanzania, a debtor may be imprisoned for up to 6 months for an unpaid amount of USD0.05. While in China, debtors can face life imprisonment in “very severe circumstances”. Indebtedness is a major global issue affecting millions. In South Africa, a survey in 2013 estimated around five million South Africans were battling with over-indebtedness. Debt incarceration is harming the poor and ‘financial inclusion’ in developing countries. There are fears that debt incarceration of the poor is worsening due to the increased commercialisation of microfinance combined with its ‘zero tolerance’ for loan delinquency. Furthermore, financial services to the disadvantaged are poorly regulated in many countries and GALA believes that third party stakeholders like investors and donors of codes of conduct need to be made aware of the serious implications.

Download PDF

Posted in Publications.


Jami, began her career as a commercial lawyer in New York. In 2005, she joined the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), an inter governmental organization based in Rome where she established the Organization’s department on microfinance regulation and financial services consumer protection. In 2011, Jami joined Consumers International, UK as a senior policy advisor on financial services consumer protection and access to justice for consumers in developing countries.

In 2013, Jami established the Global Alliance for Legal Aid (GALA) which supports access to justice for the poor through the provision of legal aid and public interest advocacy. GALA is a development partner of Advocates for International Development, UK and a founding member of Beyond CSR Net, UK.