Indentured servitude is a social system in which free persons have the option to sell their freedom for a (usually fixed) period of time. Indentured servitude can be thought of like an employment contract, only that the contract holder has much more far-reaching power over his indentured servants than a regular employer. Still, indentured servants are citizens, and enjoy a minimum protection by the law. For example, it is never legal to kill or irrevocably alter an indentured servant - like it would be possible with a slave.
The name of the system is derived from the indenture, an early anti-counterfeiting system in which a dual copy of the contract, each half signed by both parties, was cut in the middle with a somewhat random, jagged cut. By holding the two documents together, it could be proved in court that they were a matching pair. Modern Torean indenture systems use digital contract verification and records of the proceedings are stored at the local Ministry of Wombs or the local Ministry of Truants.
A period of indentured servitude may last either a specific amount of time (to be determined at the signing of the contract), or it may be until a certain sum of money or its labor equivalent has been produced by the indentured servant for the contract holder.
Depending on the wording of the contract, it may - or may not - be possible for the indentured servant or a friendly third party to 'buy back' the contract and free the person from the indenture. Some contracts also allow the sale of the contract to a different contract holder.
Almost all Torean ringdoms have either slavery, indentured servitude or both written into their laws. The difference between these social systems may not be immediately apparent to an outsider, though.
In Verdan, all citizens are considered free. Runaway slaves and indentured servants brought in from the outside will, however, usually be extradited by the Ministry of Truants to be judged by the legal system of their home Ringworld that took their freedom. The status of offworlders is not well-defined in Verdan law and dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
However, it is the Verdan norm for women to be employed on contracts that can justifiably be called indentured service. The duration of these contracts is usually 2, 5 or 10 years, with shorter periods considered uneconomical because it takes too long to train the woman for the task while longer contracts are not permitted by the Ministry of Wombs. This limitation is meant to protect Verdan women from exploitation - even though the stipulations that are legal in such a contract would still be rather appalling to an offworlder. If the woman was happy with her employer however, then she is free to sign on again with the same contract holder or business.
In practice, almost all women in Verdan are indentured servants as it is almost impossible for a woman to find work outside of a very strict contract and there is no social safety net to fall back on. Usually, a working woman will work her contract for 5 or 10 years, followed by a short 1-2 year stint as a freewomb until her savings are used up and she has to indenture herself again. A few manage to escape the system, though, by contracting again immediately - often on especially harsh or demanding contracts that pay better - until they have saved up enough money to retire or start a small business of their own. Verdan law makes inheritance along the female line impossible, though, and accumulation of great wealth by females is all but unheard of.