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Home arrow Economics arrow Child Trafficking, Youth Labour Mobility and the Politics of Protection


Delving into the lives of people living ‘inside’ the picture painted by mainstream anti-trafficking, it is obvious that what anti-traffickers understand as trafficking can be understood very differently indeed. For the poor southern Beninese villagers at the heart of my research, it is simply ‘life.’

So-called victims of trafficking are here no more than young people on the move and in search of money, status or social advancement, as indeed it is right and proper for them to be doing. Likewise, the adults employing or helping them are no more traffickers or slave-drivers than they are Father Christmas. They are, at best, socially embedded facilitators doing good for the young; at worst, they’re bosses like any other.

In large part, this difference reflects the different ideological spaces that my research participants inhabit. Anti-traffickers inhabit a particular Western version of childhood that they construct as universal. From their vantage point, Beninese childhoods are deviant and deficient. Yet the Beninese too possess their ideological ‘normals,’ and for them, the sedentary, work-shy youth of the bourgeois West is far from ideal. Borders too represent a point of difference between these different sets of actors. Where, as we saw in the last chapter, anti-traffickers construct the world through the prism of the ideology of the Ideal State, the Beninese villagers governed by that state hardly buy into the inviolability of its structure. For them, as I witnessed at very close quarters, the border is rarely more than a nuisance and never is it internalised as an organising principle. Getting around it is often the most pressing task.

Capital, however, is a different story entirely. We saw in the last chapter that the architects of anti-trafficking rarely question the capitalist order and often seek to spread its neoliberal subjectivity. And although they may not buy into the full individualism of neoliberal thinking, we have seen in this chapter that Beninese labour migrants and their home communities are far from anti-capitalists. Their mobility is conditioned by the desire and the need to make money, and they make that money under conditions of classic surplus extraction. Social life in Benin may be relatively communal, but it is far from communistic. And with this (sad) observation in mind, it is time to turn our attention to what life is like for those inside the anti-trafficking field.

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