To Benin and Back in Search of How and Why
My research into the whys and wherefores of the anti- child trafficking world took me from Vienna to New York via Abeokuta, Bohicon, Cotonou and Geneva. On the way, I spoke to anti-trafficking actors stationed all over the globe, at nearly every level of the policy chain. I chose Benin as my case study country for a number of reasons. The first was practical: I had previously worked in Cotonou for an anti-trafficking NGO and so enjoyed a head-start when investigating the field. Second, Benin had long been identified as a child trafficking hotbed. It earned this status after the infamous discovery of a ship smuggling supposed Beninese ‘child slaves’ to Gabon in 2001 and the 2003 rescue of more apparent child slaves from the quarries of Abeokuta in Nigeria. Third, my previous experience in Benin had shown that discourse and policy there closely resembled those critiqued elsewhere. Discourse constructed children’s work and migration as inherently and unambiguously exploitative and thus as equivalent to trafficking, while policy sought to protect the young by pre-emptively preventing their labour mobility. Fourth, Benin had a socio-cultural heritage of child and youth mobility as well as a political economy that made it germane for examining the contrasts and conflicts entailed in transplanting a (depoliticised) Western model of child protection into a non-Western context.4 And fifth, Benin’s anti-trafficking field was comprised of all of the world’s most important anti- child trafficking organisations.
I decided to begin by examining one of the country’s ‘classic’ examples of child trafficking—the movement of teenage boys from the southern Zou region to the artisanal quarries of Abeokuta, Nigeria (see Maps 1.1-1.5 below). I selected four case study villages from Za-Kpota and Zogbodomey communes, and in these villages I purposively sampled current and former migrants to the quarries, individuals involved in the migrant labour network linking the region to the quarries, and village authorities. Fieldwork here took place in multiple stages: six months in 2010 and another in 2012.5 My principal research tools were semi-structured, open-ended interviews and focus group discussions, along with as much participant observation as possible. Subsequently, I spent one month in 2012 and my research assistant spent two months in 2014 in and around the Abeokutan quarries, in order to triangulate what we had heard on the Beninese side of the border. There we observed the living and working conditions of young workers and interviewed migrant labourers and other key actors in the quarry economy.
From the ground level, I moved upward to access the various different organisations shaping discourse, policy and practice around my case study population. Identifying which agencies to talk to was unproblematic, since Benin possesses a formalised national child protection network. Members include, from the UN and International Organisation (IO) world, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Organisation on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO); from the donor community, the United States (US) Departments of State, Labor and International Development, the European Union (EU), France, and the Danish International
Map 1.1 Benin within West Africa (Map available at and downloaded from: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:LocationBenin.svg. Last accessed 12/02/16)
Map 1.2 Benin (Map available at and downloaded from: http://fr.wikipedia. org/wiki/Fichier:Benin_carte.png. Last accessed 12/02/16)
Map 1.3 Zou Department (Map available at and downloaded from: http://fr. wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:Benin_Zou.png. Last accessed 12/02/16)
Map 1.4 Comunes of the Zou Department, including Za-Kpota and Zogbodomey (Map available at and downloaded from: http://fiwikipedia.org/wiki/Kchier:Zou_communes.png. Last accessed 12/02/16)
Map 1.5 Location ofAbeokuta (Map available at and downloaded from: http:// www.worldatlas.com/img/locator/city/083/14983-abeokuta-locator-map.jpg. Last accessed 12/02/16)
Development Agency; the Beninese Family and Justice Ministries; and a collection of national and international NGOs.
As all of these are corporate structures organised hierarchically across time and space, research focussed both on external interactions and on multi-level intra-institutional dynamics. In the case of the state, this meant study at central and regional/local levels. In Cotonou, where ministry headquarters are located, I interviewed senior civil servants working on the trafficking or related briefs, spoke to current and former government ministers, and took pains to access any non-interview data that could shed light on institutional functioning. The same was true at regional and communal levels, as indeed it was with relevant NGOs, including those with whom I maintained an ongoing working relationship.
It was with donors and UN agencies, however, that my research moved beyond Benin to address the international anti-trafficking hierarchy. This involved complementing the study of Benin-based anti-traffickers with a study of those whose institutional positionality meant that they had influence over what happened in Benin. In 2009, I conducted six months of participant observation at UNICEF headquarters in New York, two months of face-to-face interviews with ILO (and especially IPEC) staff in Geneva, telephone interviews with donor agency employees in capitals across the Global North and visits to UNODC in Vienna. I thus managed to access a large slice of what Adler and Haas would term the global anti-trafficking ‘epistemic community’ (1992), or what sociologists and the anthropologists of policy would call the anti- child trafficking ‘field’ (e.g. Shore et al. 2011). In doing so, I focused on how and why policies and projects are established and represented, the nature of the institutional research process, inter- and intra-institutional dynamics and constraints, understandings of childhood, child work and migration, perspectives on trafficking and anti-trafficking policy, views on the role of the state, obstacles to its successful operation and perceptions of ideology.
In total, I interviewed more than 300 people over a combined period of nearly three full years of research and have since continued to work with many of them, sharing my analyses of how, why and what they do. The discussion that follows will reflect this ongoing dialogue, which interested readers can make further sense of by consulting the table of interviewees in Appendix A and breakdown of indicative interview questions in Appendix B.6