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The Ideal State

The final ideology of which the dominant anti-trafficking paradigm represents an expression is that of the Ideal State. How does this manifest? First, in the depoliticised, decontextualised and irreducibly national nature of the discourse that makes sense of the labour migration that it equates with trafficking. Although it is evident that in a globalised world many international political-economic factors contribute to youth labour mobility in places like southern Benin, nowhere within the mainstream of the anti- child trafficking field are those factors considered important. In fact, when I asked interviewees why international factors such as the politics of border controls or agricultural subsidies were not addressed in what they do, most told me that they simply had no choice. Sandra, for example, was an EU official working in Cotonou when I interviewed her, and she lamented openly that ‘We just can’t talk about these things; for us, it’s all about the national level’, while her boss, Jayjay, went even further, stating that ‘This is a national structure, a national delegation. We structurally cannot go beyond borders.'’

This indicates that the segmentation of global political authority into the modern nation-state system, and the division of international agencies into the ‘field offices’ reflective of and responsible for (the individual components of) that system, has had the effect in international discourse and policy-making around child trafficking of depoliticising the relations between and across states and the consequences for citizens in one state of the actions of citizens in another. Just as the state is now the ultimate bearer of responsibility vis-a-vis the citizens born within its borders, then, so too the explanatory and policy framework in a world system of states delimits itself to the individual state in question (Murphy 1996).

This is further emphasised by the massive emphasis donor agencies place in countries like Benin on ‘getting the right laws on the books,’ on getting births registered, on getting children into school and thereby on having these countries, formally at least, correspond to the norms of the global liberal-democratic Ideal State protective of its inhabitants’ rights. As was explained earlier, when diagnosing a (non-Western) country’s anti-trafficking problem and thus prescribing a remedy for it, the majority of the international anti- child trafficking field rally around ‘state weakness’ and ‘state strengthening’ respectively. As such, in Sandra’s words, there was a huge, collective push by anti-traffickers in Benin to get Benin’s government to pass an anti-trafficking law in 2006, ‘after which everyone just stopped coming to our coordination meetings.’ Where engagement did not stop at the level of having the state tick the appropriate legal box, however, emphasis was still placed either on improving national-level ‘implementation,’ on properly policing borders or on biopolitically registering and governing the citizens comprising the Ideal State’s body politic.

Finally, at a more basic (though arguably even more important) level, we must also note that the tendency within anti-trafficking discourse and policy to pathologise mobility tout court is itself surely a consequence of the ideology of the Ideal State, since it instils in policy-makers a ‘sedentary bias.’ This bias has been demonstrated widely by scholars in the field of forced migration (De Haan 1999; Scalletaris 2007). It is said to have emerged in parallel with the rise of the state and to express its drive to immobilise its people in order to ensure what James Scott has called their ‘legibility’ (and thus their governability) (Scott 1998). In Scalletaris’s words, ‘movements of people are now always seen as problematic, almost pathological’. The very term ‘dis-placement’ itself indicates a mindset encoding people as attached to a place ‘where they are naturally supposed to stay’ and to which they should be returned for their own good when they have moved (2007: 46-7).

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