» Posts tagged: ‘Terre des Hommes


Terre des Hommes Stop Webcam Child Sex Tourism’ campaign forcefully calls attention to the exploitation of children in cybersex. The campaign raises many questions and, I argue, constitutes an example of doing development James Bond style.

Discussions on ICTs in relation to children present an awkward divide. In the literature pertaining to the western world there is increasing attention to problematic aspects, including cyber bullying, online grooming, etc. Such issues are hardly discussed in the development studies literature concerning children and ICTs. Here, ICTs remain predominantly seen in a bright positive light, exemplified by slogans as ICT4D, and the various ‘1 laptop per child’ initiatives.

The recently launched Terre des Hommes campaign ‘Stop Webcam Child Sex Tourism’ does much to problematize this state of affairs. As part of their efforts to stop child sexual exploitation, they have now zoomed into ‘Webcam Child Sex Tourism, which Terre des Hommes understands as: ‘when adults pay to direct and view live-streaming video footage of children in another country performing sexual acts in front of a webcam’.

Central to the campaign is ‘Sweetie’, a virtual 10 year old girl from the Philippines who was used by Terre des Hommes researchers as a ‘bait’ in cyberspace. In a nearly 8 minute youtube clip Sweetie tells her story. Over a period of two months the research team caught, by manipulating Sweetie, 1000 individuals from more than 65 countries red-handed. They tracked their details and recorded their practices. The file is handed over to the Dutch police.

The message Terre des Hommes sends into the world is seductively simple: ‘If our researchers and Sweetie can track more than 1,000 webcam child sex tourists in only 2 months’ time, the international police should be able to trace 100.000 a year.’ They have thus opened an online petition to ‘Justice ministers, police chiefs and child protection chiefs’. The petition text reads as follows:

‘As citizens concerned about children’s mental and physical welfare, we call on you to crack down on Webcam Child Sex Tourism. This will require announcing a plan for intercepting potential predators in public chat rooms, initiating prosecutions and challenging intermediaries who enable and profit from this vile trade. We expect you to act fast, decisively and accountably, to prevent more young lives being ruined.’ 

So far the campaign details. However, the significance of the campaign is only partly found in its details – there is more happening here.

Watching the youtube clip there were a few features that struck me. The clip starts as an investigative detective. No spoken words, no images of people. Just words appearing on screen in a firm capitalized font. Intense music is adding to the atmosphere that is built up. As with all detectives, we know that something will be uncovered. Something that we couldn’t imagine just a few seconds ago.

There are numbers. Presented in digital counters, suggesting great certainty about the smallest of details. From numerical and digital precision we move to global visions. We oversee it all. We see a globe rotating. We see maps. We see tiny lights appearing on the surface of the earth. That’s where the perpetrators are, we can see them! They are caught, and we have recorded every detail whoever and wherever they are.

This grand act of knowing is staged in a highly masculine manner. With the exception of one, all actual people appearing in the clip are male, the researchers, the Terre des Hommes director, and also the voice-over is a sure, never failing male voice. These are not random men. These are the good men! ‘Good’ in various ways as is evident from the sharp contrast with the blurred images of the male perpetrators with their overweight bodies caught in shameful acts. These are the bad men, without doubt. Masculinity is there too in the construction of Sweetie. It is men who have masterminded and control this virtual image, and it is their technology that is going to save us from the bad men out there.

How should we understand this all? This is more than a campaign and Terre des Hommes is a large international NGO (non-governmental organization). What we see here is far from insignificant. We have had Angelina Jolie, Marco Borsato, and various other international and national celebrities giving publicity to a range of (I)NGOs and their activities. There is none of them here. Or perhaps there is, but it is taken to another level.

We don’t get the celebrity actors and actresses. But even better, we get the big thriller that made them famous. Just like James Bond there is an intimate link with the state, and Terre des Hommes, not unlike James Bond, simultaneously acts in ways that (most) state-actors won’t get away with. Altogether, the campaign is a powerful (if subliminal) rebuttal to current critiques and cynicism about the potency of development work. This is perhaps best captured by the call for ‘proactive policing’ through the use of virtual baits to track and catch ‘predators’ even before any actual crime is committed involving actual human beings. Yet this resurrection of development practice is also a particular one. A development fantasy is constructed that seamlessly combines the MDG obsession with numbers and targets, with high-tech and virtual bodies. The practice of ‘proactive policing’ deeply complicates any state-nonstate distinction, and the entire project is framed in a highly masculine style. Is development, then, once again the terrain of good guys saving us from the bad ones, but this time in James Bond style?

posted by Roy Huijsmans

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.


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