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Sensitisation and ‘Responsibilisation’

Although many anti-traffickers would thus seemingly like to stifle child movement as much as possible, they are aware that resources for this kind of total surveillance are lacking. As a result, anti-traffickers accompany their disciplinary drive with the widespread promotion of productive self-policing. In the words of one senior figure at the Beninese Family Ministry, ‘We are here to change people’s behaviour.’ The key watchwords in this push for behavioural change are—as always with development or social policy interventions—‘sensitisation’ and ‘responsibilisation.’ Every one of the official documents I have read relating to anti-trafficking policy features ‘sensitisation’ as one of the project activities undertaken or to be undertaken. UN reports show this to have been central in places ranging from Bangkok to Budapest, while each of the organisations that I have either worked with or researched uses ‘sensitisation’ or ‘responsibilisation’ as a core pillar of its activities.

What do these entail? Individual actions of course vary by context. They can include public information or advocacy messages broadcast on national radio, on national television or in roadside poster campaigns. They may include NGO staff heading into villages to ‘inform’ inhabitants of the dangers of mobility, of letting young girls face sexual predators in the city or boys be worked to death in the brick kilns. Or, as mentioned earlier, they may include the development and dissemination of material such as Ana, Bazil et le Trafiquant, which was taken around Benin by a mobile cinema showing people the dangers of letting children leave the village.

When one looks more deeply into the content of these sensitisation and responsibilisation drives, however, it becomes clear that they are dominated by two clear messages. The first is of course anti-movement. This involves ‘reformulating peasant opinions’ so that people ‘understand’ child and youth movement as negative and thus self-police by keeping their offspring at home. Hashim and Thorsen note that this messaging has been widespread throughout Africa (2011), while Dottridge has seen parallels in Eastern Europe, South Asia and South-East Asia (2007). In my own research, Abidi and Dibi indicated as much in their earlier descriptions of the village committees. While Celestin, a local government official responsible for the comune in which two of my case study villages were located, said much the same. Asked if he was involved in any ‘sensitisation,’ he replied that his staff, NGOs and the village committees with which they work ‘frequently go to backwater areas to describe why leaving is bad.’ Importantly, one of the reasons why it is said to be bad is because it supposedly leads children to work in conditions analogous to slavery.

The second strand of sensitisation revolves around creating the modern, aware and responsible (read: Western) parents who know that home/ school is where children should be, who recognise their children as human rights-bearers and who are thus wary of the dangers of work and mobility. In this regard, Banda, a donor representative in Cotonou, encapsulated the general mindset of anti-traffickers in that city when he said quite un- reflexively and without a hint of irony that his agency funds efforts that

Anti-trafficking Poster 1 (This and all other photographs in this book are copyright of the author)

Fig. 2.1 Anti-trafficking Poster 1 (This and all other photographs in this book are copyright of the author)

focus on ‘evolving peasant mentalities.’ Even more shocking was Sharon, a West African woman working for UNICEF in Nigeria, who argued that ‘the extended family syndrome is a pandemic in West Africa.’ ‘It’s a pandemic,’ she continued, ‘that needs addressing and overcoming through nuclear family promotion and awareness-raising.’ Her words are truly staggering, particularly given that she is herself African. Yet they are far from uncommon, especially within the upper echelons of the anti-trafficking field. What they point to is the kind of brute ideological social engineering that anti-trafficking ‘sensitisation’ is often reduced to (Figs. 2.1 and 2.2).

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