Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism, like all forms of capitalism, tends to construct poverty and inequality either as natural phenomena or as the near-pathological consequence of individual failings and irresponsibility. Typical policy responses thus vacillate between, on the one hand, doing nothing, and on the other, intervening surgically with targeted social protection measures or disciplinary efforts to promote behaviour change. Both of these strands are clearly in evidence in the world of anti- child trafficking. Dominant discourse takes poverty at once as a kind of a-historical fact-of-being that can neither be explained nor addressed, and as a state-of-being attributable to personal moral failings. Thus we witness the silence of 100 interviewees when quizzed over poverty’s structural underpinnings, and we see discourse blame individual transgressors for creating the conditions of their own immiseration (‘parents have too many children,’ ‘villagers are tricked’). At the same time, in policy terms, anti-traffickers avoid the promotion of collective, equality-focused redistributive mechanisms that could alter the material-social basis of poverty and exclusion. Instead, they encourage individual, property-respecting, responsibility-taking behaviour change such as the reduction of family size. Or they provide relief through the targeted and individualised distribution of IGAs, on the logic that if parents are not poor, they will not engage in trafficking, and if they are given a sustainable marketable skill, then they will forever be free of poverty because they will be self-sustaining market actors.

In this, it is also notable that the kind of person that policy tends towards creating through the promotion of its ‘protective healthy childhoods’ is exactly the Neoliberal homo economicus. The activities legitimised for children and promoted through sensitisation or legal norms are restricted either to schooling or to a professional pre-work apprenticeship in a socially sanctioned economic sector. This is precisely in order to create the self-sufficient, responsible and independent economic actors able to thrive in the world of the market as ‘entrepreneurs of themselves.’

The Neoliberal expressions go beyond this, however. They are also clear in the way that labour relations remain entirely un-trammelled by the hand of intervention. As Harvey has argued (2005), a core element of Neoliberalism is the de- or non-regulation of the labour market. As such, labour rights have been eroded across the West, and in Benin, the already insignificant labour inspectorate has been reduced to a handful of individuals. As a consequence, protection from the exploitation associated with trafficking does not in any way involve an effort to improve working conditions. Rather, it involves instead the policing of mobility, which is entirely concomitant with the creation of Neoliberalism’s captive sedentary labour pools outside of government protection (Geschiere and Nyamnjoh 2000).

Neoliberal expressions are also clear in the way that economic efficiency features in the construction of anti-trafficking policy. As was suggested in the previous section, although child mobility is generally demonised within the discursive-policy establishment, many policy-makers accept that not all migrant children or young people necessarily end up in situations of trafficking. Yet still they target all migrant children’s movement as a preemptive strategy to protect the majority that they believe do. This is a clear example of what Aradau has identified as governmental profiling against the backdrop of the cost-effectiveness demanded by Neoliberalism (2008; see also Foucault 2007, 2008). Instead of designing particularised policies that respond to the specificities of an individual’s context, and instead of offering structural protection from exploitation through a labour inspectorate-enforced guarantee of safe working conditions, anti- child trafficking policy relies on mobility-policing securitisation, dealing with trafficking on a group level and on the basis of statistical proportions and probabilities, targeting all minors migrating away from home as likely to end up in situations of abuse (ibid.).

 
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