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Challenging the Paradigm: Young People at Work and on the Move


This chapter presents a very different picture to the last. The stories featured here directly challenge prevailing child trafficking discourse and call into question mainstream anti-trafficking policy. They are drawn from my long-term engagement with individuals and communities labelled as ‘traffickers’ and as ‘victims of trafficking’ in Benin and Nigeria and from parallel work conducted by other scholars in similar contexts. They reflect both the critical academic counter-narrative that has developed as an alternative to dominant anti-trafficking discourse, and the self-understanding and self-representation of those individuals who are so often violently (mis-)represented by that discourse. These stories depict subjects and their actions in thicker, more plausible terms than those of the dominant discourse and show how, when situated within local or alternative webs of meaning, what the anti-trafficking architecture makes sense of as trafficking can be made sense of very differently indeed.

The chapter begins with a brief sociological discussion of the nonWestern models of childhood, child development and family structure that pertain in places such as Benin. These models are characterised by mutuality, interdependence and the desire to foster a subjectivity of collective responsibility. They make sense of young peoples’ work, mobility and placement in terms of child development and the child’s contribution to the collective. None are equated with trafficking or slavery. In the second part of the chapter, I draw this contrast out even more starkly when I delve © The Author(s) 2017

N. Howard, Child Trafficking, Youth Labour Mobility and the Politics of Protection, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-47818-4_3

into a case study of what the anti- child trafficking establishment characterises as classic child trafficking and what I and those involved see by contrast as a flow of teenage labour migration. This is the case of Beninese adolescent quarry workers in Abeokuta, Nigeria, dozens of whom I interviewed on site or back in Benin. What emerges from these interviews and from my observation of youngsters at work is precisely the normality of their labour mobility, its rootedness both in community and in global capitalism, and the social and economic importance it holds for them and their communities. The chapter concludes by turning its gaze back on to the anti-trafficking field and in particular on to anti-trafficking policy. It does this by relaying what policy-affected communities would themselves like to see as an alternative policy of protection.

The point of this discussion is not to claim for the contents of this chapter a ‘truth-value’ that is beyond anti-traffickers, or indeed that lies outside of discourse or ideology (for such a claim would ultimately be indefensible). Rather, the point is to present an alternative discourse that relativises the mainstream and offers a different (better?) way of seeing, one that is more grounded, more nuanced and, in a certain sense, more ‘real’ than the dominant fare, as well as to present a potentially more effective and emancipatory set of policy prescriptions that could genuinely help those in need.

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