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The Fight Against Poverty

The final component of anti-child trafficking policy involves the everpresent ‘fight against poverty.’ We saw earlier that poverty is widely understood as trafficking’s root cause, and so it stands to reason that anti-traffickers would want to fight against it, at the very least in order to remove the push factor that encourages child mobility. And on paper at least, they do.11 The problem is that in practice most anti-trafficking anti-poverty efforts are highly depoliticised and largely ineffective. They tend not to advocate structural transformation, but instead typically target what little resources they have in highly neoliberal fashion—at individuals, families or small communities, and in the form of time-bound donations or support for ‘income-generating activities’ (IGAs).

IPEC’s LUTRENA project represents a classic case in point. At one time the ILO’s flagship initiative in West and Central Africa, LUTRENA was among the largest anti-trafficking projects anywhere in the world and centred in good measure on a Poverty Reduction Strategy. Its architects began from the classic premise that poverty causes trafficking and so proposed IGAs as a way of reducing poverty. Their logic is encapsulated perfectly in the following paragraph, taken from an evaluation into the project’s first phase:

It is hoped that with the increase in family income parents will be discouraged from passing their children on to persons who promise to “take care of them” and will instead themselves ensure their children’s required schooling and well-being. This is why the program has financed Action Programs (AP) offering parents the type of services needed to develop and succeed in certain income-generating activities. (ILO-IPEC 2007: 13)

Unsurprisingly, however, at the time of the project’s evaluation, these activities were proving highly unsuccessful. None had significantly reduced poverty, and all were handicapped by a number of serious limitations. First, a high proportion of parents lacked either the business acumen or the bank accounts necessary to commercialise their new skills, while the action programmes (Aps) failed to provide either. Second, markets often did not exist for the products made with these new skills, rendering their acquisition commercially useless. Third, initial capital outlays had been very small and were wholly insufficient to provide a start-up. And fourth, financial support lasted for only a very short time. As a result, even the project’s evaluators found themselves forced to admit defeat. ‘It is improbable,’ they declare, ‘that these IGAs...will go beyond the subsistence stage and succeed in taking parents of CT victims or potential CT victims sustainably out of the precarious social and material situation which is at the basis of CT risk’ (ibid. 14-15).12

A damning indictment indeed. But one that is sadly all too common. Stifled by low budgets, short project duration, problematic targeting, unsustainability and unsuitability, anti-trafficking anti-poverty efforts are at best palliative, most likely futile and at worst counterproductively depoliticising. They seek not to ameliorate the structural conditions that condemn people to a state of material deprivation, but rather to ‘help’ them by incorporating them into the market economy as putatively sustainable market actors, even where the structural conditions for sustainability do not pertain. This is quixotic, to say the least.

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