The Anti-Trafficking Take on Abeokuta
In the early 2000s, as Benin’s ‘trafficking problem’ began to take off, news broke of a major crisis just over the border in Abeokuta. What was widely termed a civil war had erupted between the various Beninese ‘gangs’ apparently controlling the local economy. When the police intervened, it was said that they discovered hundreds of child slaves originally from Za-Kpota labouring in desperate conditions, aching for their freedom. From this moment on, both Za-Kpota and Abeokuta became bywords in the Beninese anti-trafficking world for the worst of the worst, for what happens when children or their families risk the folly of labour mobility.5
The following is a taste of the narrative that developed after and around this scandal. It comes from an article published on France 24 by a journalist who had interviewed a number of Benin’s major anti-trafficking players shortly after the (in)famous war and rescue. It depicts a life that is irredeemably nasty, brutish and short, with child slaves toiling at the behest of the trafficking gangs to whom they have been sold across the border and into bonded labour. The agency of young migrant workers is denied, the possibility that their work is constructive or beneficial is rejected and the central figure of the criminal is clearly invoked. Notably, the article draws for its data on respected UN and police sources, such as UNICEF and the Juvenile Protection Unit in Cotonou. This reflects the way that media, state and supra-state actors intertwine in the production of dominant antitrafficking discourse.
Extract 3.1: France 24 Article6