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The ‘Pathological Paradigm’: What Causes Child Trafficking?

Let us now dive into the details of the dominant discourse. Beyond the simple fact of its problematising certain phenomena, what exactly does it consist of? How is child trafficking framed? What explains it? And who are the baddies in the story? At its very core, both in Benin and beyond, the dominant discourse is structured around a pathological paradigm. This refers to the discursive mechanism whereby trafficking’s so-called causes are attributed entirely to abnormal, extraneous conditions that operate in un-mediated cause-effect fashion. It is assumed by those who construct (or inhabit) the discourse that no well-intentioned and informed adult would willingly choose to let a minor engage in the labour migration that is equated with trafficking and slavery, and also that no minor would have the capacity to make such a choice independently. As such, the existence and persistence of this labour migration can be made sense of only pathologically, as a deviant consequence of factors beyond the putatively normal state of affairs. These factors include ignorance, criminal trickery and rootless concepts such as poverty. Given how important they are for legitimating the kinds of anti-trafficking policies that we shall discuss in the chapter’s second half, we will dwell on each at some length. The first is perhaps the most pernicious, since it bears greatest responsibility for the discursive collapse of mobility into trafficking and work into slavery.

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