Discourse and Policy: Expressing Ideology

How is it possible to make sense of what has been presented above? Even without the alternative empirics of the next chapter, most readers will surely find discourse and policy to be reductive. Why is this? Why is the pathological paradigm so simplistic, and how can policy be so heavyhanded? In this final section, I sketch part of an answer to these questions. While it will be for Chapter 4 to complete the picture begun here by delving inside the anti-trafficking field, here I suggest that some sense can be made by seeing both in terms of the ideologies of which I believe they are expressions: Western Childhood, Neoliberalism and the Ideal State. Although in practice these dovetail and overlap in ways which cannot be divided discretely, I divide them here for the sake of analytical clarity.

Western Childhood

According to the Western model of childhood presented in the book’s Introduction, children are inherently vulnerable and largely non-agentive, their normal development is best guaranteed within the protective bosom of the sedentary nuclear family and school is the place where they should evolve, safe from the dangers of the market. Given that this model is posited as universal (since it is based on apparently scientific understandings of human development), those experiences of childhood which fail to reflect it necessarily find themselves pathologised as problematic or deviant (Boyden 1997).

As a number of scholars have argued, this is strikingly evidenced in the pathological paradigm making sense of how and why the young leave home for work (Hashim 2003; Hashim and Thorsen 2011). It is especially clear in Benin. Though, as the next chapter shows, youth labour mobility there is embedded in complex webs of socio-cultural and political-economic causality, for the anti-trafficking paradigm, it has to be the simplistic consequence of anomalous or extreme cause-factors, such as parental neglect, economic crisis or criminal trickery. In the Western model, no well-informed or well-intentioned parent could conceivably choose to let a child migrate for work/trafficking, and no minor either could or would make such a choice independently. This is because the Western model can only construct the physical separation of parent and child, as well as the child’s engagement in most remunerated activity, as problematic and outside the bounds of its normality, such that deviation from the norm must be understood as deviant—and thus pathological.

The commonplace anti-trafficking approach to monetisation is also classically Western. As Zelizer has argued, money is taken a proxy for work within the Western framework, and work is understood as an activity proper for adults and not for ‘innocent’ children who must remain expelled from the ‘cash nexus’ (1994). This means that when young people exercise their labour power at home and without payment, it is discursively, politically and legally ‘OK,’ yet if the same young person expends the same energy performing the same task, but in return for a wage or for an employer, then exploitation is automatically said to have taken place. In the Beninese case, that exploitation is even said to include the sale of children into slavery, in instances where parents take an advance on their children’s future salary. Money therefore generates an ontological shift in the meaning of the exercise of youth labour power for those whose analysis is framed by the Western model, even if, as the next chapter will show, in practice money is decisively important and liberating for the young labour migrants whose migrant labour is less taxing than the unremunerated farm work they do at home.

Anti-trafficking policy also clearly echoes and expresses these Western trends. As the previous section made clear, its two key pillars are the preemptive prevention of the migration seen to equate to trafficking and the promotion of a safe, work-free childhood (along with the families and institutions able to provide it). This takes place through the variety of coercive measures examined earlier, including the promulgation of the heavily anti-movement anti-trafficking law, the establishment of border patrols to deter mobility and the establishment of village committees designed to monitor migration and encourage families to keep their children at home. It is also of course evidenced in the effort to encourage citizen self-policing and to mould those citizens into the (Western) shape desired by the policy establishment. Hence the importance of sensitisation efforts which seek to ‘reformulate peasant mindsets,’ the massive drive to expand schooling and to reduce family size, as well as the attempt to ‘responsibil- ise’ parents such that they understand ‘proper families’ to involve children being kept at home.

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