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Home arrow Economics arrow Child Trafficking, Youth Labour Mobility and the Politics of Protection

Structure of the Book

The following discussion is divided into three chapters. Chapter 2, Child Trafficking and the Fight Against It, will introduce and attempt to map what I understand as the dominant child trafficking paradigm. Although dissent has always existed, and although some critics have rejected both the formal definition of trafficking and the standard prescriptions for what to do about it, there nevertheless exists an officially sanctioned, widely accepted and clearly hegemonic child trafficking paradigm. This paradigm constructs child trafficking as a major contemporary evil, involving innocent children trapped or tricked into exploitative work and movement. It demonises much child work and cultures of mobility, and it creates protection strategies that rely heavily on the preventive policing of movement.

Although many authors have critiqued trafficking discourse or policy, this chapter seeks to offer the first comprehensive mapping of their many interlinking but distinct trends. In order to do that, it is divided into two parts—the first dealing with discourse and the second addressing policy. The first argues that discourse rests on notions of extremity and non-consensuality with regard to child and youth labour and mobility, pathologising each as a cause-effect consequence of parental deficiencies, criminal deviance, the corruption of traditional social solidarity or amorphous structural factors such as poverty. Ideologically, ethnocentric assumptions about the ‘normal’ progression of childhood, about what families should and shouldn’t look like, and about what children ‘need’ will be revealed and discussed through a careful analysis of texts.

In the second part of the chapter, attention turns to anti-trafficking policy. Drawing on existing scholarly analyses of policy in conversation with my own central empirical study of Benin, the chapter argues that the major policy trend in anti- child trafficking has been to pre-emptively prevent the child’s (labour) mobility and to protect children by promoting what are normatively understood as healthy (read: Western) childhoods. These include attending school instead of going to work, staying at ‘home’ instead of migrating and benefiting from ‘responsible’ instead of ‘wayward’ parenting. The chapter reveals a mixture of what Foucault has famously described as disciplinary and productive power at work within this policy matrix and also draws on his concept of neoliberal governmen- tality. It traces the contours of each of the three structuring ideologies identified earlier.

Chapter 3, Young People at Work and on the Move, presents a theoretico-empirical challenge to this dominant paradigm. Scholars across the world have contributed to this challenge, rightly critiquing the failures of policy as well as the dissonances between discursive representation and alternative empirical ‘realities.’ Many have argued that putative victims would in fact be better understood as agentive, consenting teenage labour migrants, whose experience should be viewed through the ethnographic lens of socio-cultural or political-economic context. Many more have damned the faraway policy-makers transplanting their un-reflexive ‘anti-politics machines’ (Ferguson 1990) onto unsuspecting populations.

But while this scholarly work has been important, it has some limitations, two of which are paramount. First is the lack of detailed research on policy texts, with policy actors, or inside the policy architecture. Second is its gender bias. For most research has focused on the (sexualised) labour of migrant girls; far less has engaged boys, their experience of their masculinity or what this means for their labour migration. Chapter 3 will therefore build on existing critical challenges to the dominant paradigm (notably those offered by scholars such as Hashim, Huijsmans, O’Connell Davidson, Okyere and Thorsen) and will complement these with the author’s own ethnographic account of male youth labour mobility from southern Benin to the artisanal quarries of Abeokuta in Nigeria. It will explore Fon13 notions of childhood, child development, adolescence, work and migration, and will examine the reasons for and experience of this youth labour mobility. It will present an alternative, more nuanced and messy account of the phenomena depicted by the policy establishment as trafficking and will relay prescriptions for what policy- affected communities would themselves like to see as an alternative policy of protection.

Finally, Chapter 4 —Inside the Anti-Trafficking Field—iattempts to explain the dominant paradigm. Accepting that the ideologies of Western Childhood, Neoliberalism and the Ideal State are indeed crucial for understanding anti- child trafficking and policy, the chapter will nevertheless pull back the curtain on the field’s inner workings to lay bare the material and symbolic power dynamics governing ideological transmission, stabilisation, challenge and resistance. It argues that although some people internalise and inhabit these ideologies, others engage them with much greater reticence. As such, their positionality involves conflict, contestation and above all the continued exercise of power. The chapter examines the workings of that power as it navigates stability, stabilisation, challenge and change. It uncovers what I call ‘the politics of silence’ and ‘the politics of representation’ conditioning life inside the anti-trafficking field and recreating its governing ideologies. Lastly, it shows that although some actors do reject the dominant discourse, and although the policy they enact often breaks down in practice, this breakdown and that rejection are frequently concealed in order to suit the representational requirements that are a symbolic capital-conditioned prerequisite for institutional survival. Where they are not concealed, however, and where space does exist for challenge to the dominant paradigm, that challenge is only permitted when it offers no threat to the overarching ideological hegemony. Stability in change, therefore, is the system’s overriding logic. And its prime consequence is depoliticised reproduction.

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