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Family Planning and Birth Registration

Similarly understood as both means and desirable end is the increasingly serious push by the anti-trafficking and wider international child protection community for comprehensive family planning and birth registration. This twin push represents the third of our three classically ‘productive’ policy trends, following on from the disciplinary trio discussed at the outset. Each of these seeks to mould the citizenry into the shape required by the ideology of Western Childhood, adapting family practices, family size and the family’s relationship to the state.

In the case of family planning, B0RNEfonden’s recent assessment of their anti- child trafficking work has neatly encapsulated the view held by much of the policy community: ‘More work is needed on the causes of trafficking...such as large family sizes and the lack of family planning’

(2009: 38). The logic behind this thinking is much akin to that articulated by Ayala earlier, that large families are generally poor, that it is poor families who place or allow their children to work and migrate, and thus that a reduction in family size will help prevent trafficking. Campaigns to this effect are long-standing across the Global South. UNICEF has long worked in concert with other UN agencies, Planned Parenthood organisations and governments to promote birth spacing and maternal autonomy. And now they are doing so also in the context of anti-trafficking.

With regard to birth registration, although the chain of causality is not articulated quite as clearly as it is with large family size, the lack of universal birth registration is generally portrayed by policy-makers as representing a pseudo cause of trafficking, and thus it is believed that registering births must form a preventive policy response.10 In Benin’s POA, for example, we read that:

In 2001, it was estimated that a third of Beninese children had not had their births registered with the state. These children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, because they cannot be expected to receive healthcare and education, or be watched over by these services. Without an official national identity, resulting from this lack of official documentation, these children are often a trafficker’s first victims. (MFE and ILO 2008: 21)

This paragraph is a first-rate example of discursive depoliticisation. The shadow of the Ideal State looms silently (but violently) over the figures of its citizens. It is at once the protective watcher-over and the single body able to exclude people from that protection. It is both benevolent parent and potential tyrant. Yet no mention is made of its tyranny, of the fact that exclusion from services or protection remains only and ever the prerogative of the state itself. Here causality is reduced to the level of the individual choosing not to comply with the (logic of) state, such that remedial action necessarily entails complying by obtaining an official, state-sanctioned identity.

Accordingly, the push to universalise these state-sanctioned identities is well advanced and now forms a standard part of most anti-trafficking efforts. In West Africa, for example, village committees often seek to promote birth registration as one of their top priorities (Botte and UNICEF 2005: 17), while in Benin, birth registration constitutes both a pillar of the national strategy and an activity engaging fully 20 % of the country’s anti-trafficking NGOs (MFE and UNICEF 2007: 77).

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