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Criminal Deviance: ‘Wily’ Traffickers and ‘Tricky’ Intermediaries

A corollary to this poor or ignorant parenting is the assumed presence of widespread criminal deviance, predominantly in the form of cunning traffickers who prey on the naive, vulnerable and poor. Internationally, as any US TIP report will testify, it is criminal gangs who are largely identified as the culprits. In West Africa and South Asia, however, the trafficker is much more frequently depicted as a crafty individual operator who plays on rural innocence and ingenuity in order to make a quick, moral-free buck, duping young girls to the city for sex and boys to mines or fisheries for hard physical graft.

The figure of the wily trafficker is found in myriad state and civil society publications identifying the causes of trafficking in Benin. He is best encapsulated though in the nationwide sensitisation campaign centring on the film and cartoon strip Ana, Bazil et le Trafiquant. Created as part of UNICEF’s anti-trafficking work in the early 2000s, Ana, Bazil and the Trafficker is the story of a bright young girl, Ana, from a poor village in southern Benin. The story opens with scenes depicting Ana’s idyllic home life, her love of school, her housework and the struggles her family face to get by. Shortly thereafter, the arrival of a mysterious stranger heralds the shattering of Ana’s world. The smooth-talking outsider approaches Ana’s loving yet misguided parents and begins to persuade them that Ana does not need to remain in school, that she could work and help the family, and that if she came with him, he would be able to place her in a wealthy household that could set her up for life.

Though at first reluctant, Ana’s parents ultimately acquiesce to his suggestion, believing that the sad choice to let her leave will be in her best interests. It is at this point in the narrative that ‘The Trafficker’ secretly reveals his evil plan to actually sell Ana into servitude, and the audience are led to see how the combination of the crafty trafficker and Ana’s parents’ well-intentioned ignorance mean that she is lost. Fortunately for both Ana and the audience, however, Bazil, Ana’s young classmate, gets wind of The Trafficker’s plan and is thus able to alert the authorities shortly after Ana leaves. In the penultimate segment of the story, we are briefly treated to an image of Ana in bondage. She is shown working and being mistreated as a domestic servant, missing her family and school and deeply unhappy at what has befallen her. Before long, however, Bazil and the police arrive, rescuing Ana from her nightmare, arresting The Trafficker and bringing Ana home, happy and well, to her delighted, loving and repentant family. The film and its attendant comic strip close with Ana beaming as she returns to school with Bazil, safe now from evil traffickers and parental errors.

Even the most cursory discourse analysis can identify a number of important hegemonic concepts invoked by this story, including two of our key ideologies. Implicit in it is the Western Childhood notion that a ‘proper’ home is the safe, caring and protective, parental nest and that this parental nest is twinned with the school, which represents the family at the level of the state (embodying as it does, of course, the nation-family). Similarly implicit is the protective Ideal State safeguarding its vulnerable and disciplining its deviant. In this, it is significant that the intervention of responsive state agents—themselves acting at the behest of a responsible citizen—leads to Ana’s rescue and repatriation and to the re-incorporation of her anomalous experience of bondage within the framework of protective normality. Crucially, we also have the notion that departure from the home-school is both implicitly and explicitly damaging, with The Trafficker in this construction the pivotal figure representing at once a real material threat and also the metaphorical embodiment of the nefariousness that awaits innocence upon its pre-emptive entry into ‘the economy’ (equated so often, as we have seen, with slavery).

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