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Child Saving?

Category: trafficking

14 Jul 2015


The coming weeks, the ‘Beyond Slavery and Trafficking‘ page of the openDemocracy website features a series of posts raising critical questions about contemporary ‘child saving’.

‘Beyond Slavery and Trafficking’ (BST) is an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and researchers from across the globe that has been active since 2014. Its objectives are described as follows:

This site aspires to be an alternative to the many ‘Modern-Day Slavery Hubs’ dotted across conventional media. While these outlets make an important contribution, they often feature stories that are sensationalist, de-politicised, and based on questionable research. We are here to go beyond such simplicity. Our editors will marshal the best of contemporary scholarship to provide informed, nuanced, and focused analysis. They’ll engage practitioners and policy-makers about life inside the policy system, and link failings to wider questions about the nature of the societies in which we live. (see HERE)

Over the next few weeks a virtual special issue on ‘generation’ is launched on the BST pages. As Sam Okyere and Neil Howard (the editors of this special issue) explain in their introduction entitled ‘Are we really saving the children?‘ the contributions show that ‘contemporary child savers often damage the children they seek to save because they operate under severely flawed assumptions’. Contributions are posted on a rolling basis so watch this SPACE.

posted by Roy Huijsmans

downloadOpen Democracy has opened a new section entitled ‘Beyond Trafficking and Slavery’.

Open Democracy is a digital commons that hosts a number of sections. Since a few months this includes a section entitled ‘Beyond Trafficking and Slavery‘ which is an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and researchers from Africa, Asia, America, Australia and Europe.

The editors envision the site ‘to be an alternative to the many ‘Modern-Day Slavery Hubs’ dotted across conventional media’. The site, thus, seeks to challenge ‘both the empty sensationalism of mainstream media accounts of exploitation and domination, and the hollow, technocratic policy responses promoted by businesses and politicians’. This will be done through ‘a regular stream of articles’ as well as a pedagogical section with short introductions to major issues and debates.

To date, the site features a number of interesting critical reflections by renowned academics. This includes an interview with Bridget Anderson, a reflective piece by Anne Gallagher on how the trafficking debate has evolved over the past two decades, and a contribution by Siobhan McGrath that critically reflects on the USA’s self-assigned role of global anti-trafficking monitor. No doubt more will follow.

posted by Roy Huijsmans




Why does the dominant anti-trafficking paradigm persist, and takes the form it has?

It’s easier if we stop them moving‘: A critical analysis of anti-child trafficking discourse, policy and practice – the case of southern Benin‘ is well-worth a read for anyone interested in (anti)trafficking (for earlier posts on the topic see here, herehere and here).  Neil Howard has written this PhD dissertation at the Department of International Development, University of Oxford and it stands out in the way it integrates rich empirical material (much of it ethnographic) with an original combination of theoretical ideas. 

The dissertation builds on an emerging body of critical scholarship on anti-trafficking. However, it seeks to expand this by: 1) focussing specifically on ‘child trafficking’ as a sub-discourse within the larger field of ‘human trafficking’, 2) focussing on ‘male adolescent labour migration’ instead of the common focus on young women in the sex industry, 3) and by conducting research with people located at virtually all levels of the anti-trafficking chain (in addition to research with young male migrants, traffickers and other villagers).

The West-African nation of Benin makes a fertile case study. It has been very much in the global anti-trafficking spotlight following the infamous Etireno affair in 2001. In addition, the country has a long history of migration, including migration by young men. And not unimportantly, the author can draw on a significant amount of experience of working on (anti)trafficking in Benin.

Discourse analysis is the prime methodological approach through which the wealth of empirical material that is generated is analysed. The findings confirm much of what is also found in other research: the narrative of child trafficking diverges strongly from the lived realities of young migrants, and anti-trafficking policies mostly fail and are not desirable by those they target. However, Neil Howard’s thesis goes further than this as it also presents a laboured, and empirically substantiated analysis of why it is that the dominant child trafficking paradigm takes the particular form it takes, and why it continues to persists.

posted by Roy Huijsmans

posted by Roy Huijsmans

The ‘Report on the National Child Labour Survey 2010 of Lao PDR‘ which was published in 2012 is now publicly available. The report contains a curious section entitled ‘Trafficking of Children’ (p119-123). This section is based on a special module that is included in the questionnaire called ‘Module X: Trafficking module’ (p171-173). This is basically a list of questions inquiring about current and past migrations related to work by household members less than 25 years of age.

The first curiosity is the statement that ‘as the age or sex of these persons [covered by the ‘Trafficking module’] has not been made a part of this module, it is not possible to estimate how many of them were younger than 18 years old’ (p 120). Although this is strange, particularly given the importance definitions of trafficking attribute to the age of 18, it is even stranger to see this error applies only to half of the questions in the ‘Trafficking module’. In the design of  the questionnaire, the interviewer is asked halfway (Q14) to link the Trafficking module back to the household survey data, which then allows disaggregating by age and gender for the analysis of the subsequent results.

The second curiosity is that the questions in the ‘Trafficking module’ are effectively about migration. No surprise then that the section entitled ‘Trafficking of children’ speaks about ‘migration’ only and does not mention the term ‘trafficking’ even once. This serves to show that organisations like the ILO still have a long way to go in figuring out, in relation to those below 18 years of age, how to conceptualise trafficking in a manner that makes it in distinct from migration in such research exercises.


posted by Roy Huijsmans

Following a decade of ‘anti-trafficking’ programming the international organisation Terre des Hommes (TdH) makes a remarkable move. Its newly launched international campaign ‘Destination Unknown‘ shifts the programmatic focus away from anti-trafficking and towards the ‘protection of children on the move’.

The launch of the new campaign is accompanied by an interesting publication, entitled ‘Beyond a Snapshot: Learning lessons from the Terre de Hommes International Campaing against child trafficking (2001-2011)‘.

Here an excerpt from p.13:

At the beginning of the campaign, the issue of child trafficking appeared relatively straightforward. Crimes were being committed against children, which were going largely unnoticed, so governments needed lobbying to persuade them to take action. As the years went by, however, the complexity of the issue became more obvious, along with the risk that certain messages linked to the campaign could have unexpected or even counter-productive effects for children. It also became clearer that trafficking cases represented an extreme along a continuum involving children who moved from one place to another…so, measures to prevent trafficking needed to be supplemented by a range of other measures to protect unaccompanied children and other children who had left home, whether they remained in their country or went abroad.


posted by Roy Huijsmans

Sverre Molland’s The Perfect Business? Anti-trafficking and the sex trade along the Mekong is a highly accessible, ethnographically rich and theoretically stimulating account of trafficking and anti-trafficking.

Juxtaposing trafficking and anti-trafficking, the author raises a number of relevant questions. For example, whilst noting the ‘continuous problem’ that ‘officially identified Lao trafficked victims’ are being held in shelters in Thailand for ‘very long periods, in some cases more than one year’ , he observes that:

I cannot recall many trafficking cases from Laos where a trafficker confined an individual for so long. It is therefore not unreasonable to speculate on the possiblity that actions of govenments and organisations to “help” sex workers have done more damage to, and violation of, their human rights than the misdeeds of traffickers(p 27).

In this light Molland further argues that:

in the context of Laos and Thailand, any researcher worth his or her grant money would know that unconditionally committing oneself to reporting, say, the presence of underage girls in a brothel to the police would most likely result in entrenchment of exploitation (“rehabilitation,” deportation, imprisonment, abuse, confiscation of earnings, and so on) of the girls themselves and not many consequences for those who operate such establishments’ (p27)

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