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The Dominant Paradigm: Child Trafficking and the Fight Against It


Child trafficking exploded onto the international scene in the late 1990s, a product of the union between the anti-trafficking and anti- child labour movements. Although previously disunited, these two came together around the World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and in 2000 fought for the adoption of the Palermo Protocol. From that moment, ‘child trafficking’ became one of the most emotive issues around. In this chapter, we look at how it is commonly constructed and at what policy-makers tend to do about it.

The chapter begins with a brief overview of the way child trafficking is problematised. This includes depictions of the scale of the trafficking problem, of the trafficked child him- or herself, and of the trafficked child’s sensationalised experience of trafficking. Emphasis will be placed on just how often the child’s experience of work is equated with slavery. Next, the chapter moves on to unpick the various elements of the dominant anti-trafficking discourse that legitimates anti-trafficking interventions. I call this discourse ‘the pathological paradigm,’ since it comprises a simplistic cause-effect matrix explaining how and why children and teenagers are trafficked, and since it commonly collapses child and youth work or mobility into trafficking and slavery. The discourse rests on sensationalist notions of extremity and non-consensuality and has a tendency to elide the nuance, agency, socio-cultural and political-economic contingency © The Author(s) 2017

N. Howard, Child Trafficking, Youth Labour Mobility and the Politics of Protection, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-47818-4_2

that the following chapter will show as central to the youth labour migratory experience.

The second part of the chapter examines the way that child trafficking has typically been dealt with in policy terms, the kinds of interventions that have been most commonplace and what project approaches are most widespread. Although, as the Introduction suggested, there is dissent within and challenge to the anti- child trafficking field, the past 15 years have nevertheless thrown up clear hegemonic approaches, regularities in dispersion and parallels across time and space. This chapter represents the first systematic examination of those approaches, using a paradigmatic case study—Benin—in conversation with parallel work by other scholars in different settings. It suggests that the overall thrust of anti- child trafficking policy has consistently been to ‘protect’ children and youth by preemptively stifling their movement and promoting instead the components and institutions seen as integral to a putatively healthy (read: Western) childhood.

The chapter concludes by turning its attention to the three core ideologies that I believe to lie at the root of the entire child trafficking edifice.

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