Desktop version

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


My research did not attempt to precisely map the relationship between a person’s field positionality and his or her thinking, but it did document some very strong correlations. The closer an interviewee was to the ‘centre’ of the anti-trafficking world, for example, the more likely s/he was to have internalised and reproduced its contours. Thus we saw in Chapters 2 and 3 that anti-traffickers repeat the dominant child trafficking mantra and espouse its associated policies far more commonly than non-anti-traffickers, especially when these latter belong to the communities labelled as either perpetrators or victims. In post-structuralist terms, this difference can be explained as a result of people inhabiting different discourses and ideologies, and so manifesting different subject positions, which they are unaware of as subject positions but instead take as absolute truths. Anti-traffickers are ultimately more likely to live within the discourse of anti-trafficking and thus to unthinkingly manifest its corresponding subject position, just as they are more likely to inhabit and consequently manifest the subject positions corresponding to the ideologies of Western Childhood, the Ideal State and Neoliberalism.

With regards to Western Childhood, Mann rightly observes that many child protection workers pathologise non-Western family and childhood models precisely because, ‘albeit unconsciously, [they] consider the familiar child rearing environments of the[ir] households to be the ideal environment in which children should grow up’ (Mann 2001: 17).1 Toto, for instance, was a Beninese national working on the anti-trafficking brief in Benin’s Justice Ministry when we spoke. He was both Beninese ‘upper class’ and part of the international discursive architecture built around child trafficking. At one national child protection workshop I attended, he loudly declared: ‘A family is a father, a mother and their children! Anything else is a problem.’ Likewise Sharon, our Nigerian UN employee from earlier, who lamented that ‘the extended family syndrome’ was the key cause of child trafficking in the region. In each case, although neither individual was white or Western, both were part of the international child protection elite that inhabits what Wells calls the ‘middle-class model of family life’ that is diffusing itself to global dominance, and both saw their subject position as universal (2009: 76).

The same can be said for many anti-traffickers of the subject positions related to Neoliberalism and the Ideal State, each of which is determining for the structure of international child protection and for anti-child trafficking. Pin, for example, was a senior figure in the IPEC hierarchy when I interviewed her about the ILO’s global anti- child trafficking work. ‘The thing is,’ she observed (as I sat in near disbelief), ‘if everyone just moved when the state said they could, then trafficking wouldn’t even be an issue, would it?’ Her blind faith was echoed by her colleague, Jeffrey, from his desk in Geneva: ‘In my ideal world,’ he said, ‘we wouldn’t have to worry about child trafficking because all kids would go to school and then grow up and get good jobs.’ No questions here then about the benevolence of the state or the problems with neoliberal thinking.

But not all of my interviewees said things that were so benign. Often what came across was far more concerning or nefarious. Classic here were the words of Larry. Larry was a UNICEF child protection worker with many years of experience in country offices around the world and at UNICEF headquarters in New York. After a long and winding interview in which my politics eventually came across, I asked him whether he and his UNICEF colleagues ever took a ‘macro’ political-economic perspective on matters such as the creation of poverty. His response bears repeating at length:

No, not really. ..We look at the general picture and see what impact the structural situation is having on children’s welfare. But how much of that we convey to donors is a different issue...I’m just not sure any of us see it as our primary objective. We focus more on the child rights angle...It’s not really our job to say “support the economy.” Instead we tell people to look at social services.

This is classically neoliberal, and it epitomises the damagingly depoliticis- ing tendencies of the neoliberal subject position. UNICEF staffers like Larry are not badgering donor governments to change the economic rules of the game, in part because they aren’t even asking themselves whether doing so would be worthwhile. They inhabit a mental framework that reduces the political to the ‘social,’ and as a consequence, they advocate policies which seek to govern rather than alleviate need.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >

Related topics