Promoting ‘Healthy Childhoods’ and Keeping Children ‘At Home’: Beninese Anti-Trafficking Policy in Times of Neoliberalism

Originally posted on Research on Human Trafficking:

Howard, Neil (2013), Promoting ‘Healthy Childhoods’ and Keeping Children ‘At Home’: Beninese Anti-Trafficking Policy in Times of Neoliberalism. International Migration, 51: 87–102. doi: 10.1111/imig.12043


This article offers the first examination of its kind of the content and nature of anti-trafficking policy as it is pursued in Benin. The article draws on data gathered from policy and project documents and from interviews and participant observation with actors integral to the constitution of policy in (and with influence over) the Beninese anti-trafficking community. It attempts to bridge the oft-lamented gap between page and practice by conducting analysis not only of the representation of policy in text, but also of its lived manifestations in processes, interactions and structures. It argues that the various different actors that comprise Benin’s anti-trafficking pantheon seek to accomplish one fundamental goal – to protect children from trafficking – through two overarching strategies – the promotion of ‘healthy’ childhoods and…

View original 43 more words

Combating human trafficking in the sex trade: can sex workers do it better?



Originally posted on Sex Work Research:

Smarajit Jana, Bharati Dey, Sushena Reza-Paul, Richard Steen (2013): Combating human trafficking in the sex trade: can sex workers do it better? in: Journal of Public Health.

Background The dominant anti-trafficking paradigm conflates trafficking and sex work, denying evidence that most sex workers choose their profession and justifying police actions that disrupt communities, drive sex workers underground and increase vulnerability.

Methods We review an alternative response to combating human trafficking and child prostitution in the sex trade, the self-regulatory board (SRB) developed by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC, Sonagachi).

Results DMSC-led interventions to remove minors and unwilling women from sex work account for over 80% of successful ‘rescues’ reported in West Bengal. From 2009 through 2011, 2195 women and girls were screened by SRBs: 170 (7.7%) minors and 45 (2.1%) unwilling adult women were assisted and followed up. The remaining 90.2% received counselling, health care and the option to join…

View original 76 more words

A tool to assess the human rights impact of anti-trafficking laws and policies

Originally posted on Research on Human Trafficking:

Who made The RighT Guide and why?

The RighT Guide, a tool to assess the human rights impact of anti-trafficking policies, was
developed by Aim for Human Rights, together with anti-trafficking, sex workers’ rights and
migrants’ rights organisations in Europe and in other parts of the world. They all shared
a growing concern about negative effects of anti-trafficking interventions on the human
rights of trafficked persons and other people affected by anti-trafficking laws, policies
and practices, like sex workers and migrants. An illustration of these concerns is the 2007
report of the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women ‘Collateral Damage: the impact of
anti-trafficking measures on human rights around the world’. The report documents a wide
range of examples of how anti-trafficking policies negatively affect the people they are
supposed to benefit. These concerns, and the need for policies that respect the human
rights of all people affected by trafficking…

View original 407 more words

Special Issue: Human rights at the Border (Anti-Trafficking Review)


This is relevant.

Originally posted on Research on Human Trafficking:

What should be the role for border controls in anti-trafficking responses, if there should be one at all? Heightened border security is increasing risks in the migration process. Many people decide that despite barriers and risks they must cross a border for survival, either in terms of economics or safety. In many cases, at border crossings, it is not possible for practitioners to tell if people are being strictly trafficked or whether they fall in another migration category, yet the risks created by border systems and the violations experienced by individuals at borders are not to be left out of conversations on trafficking and of migrants’ rights more broadly.

The latest issue of the Anti-Trafficking Review includes eight peer-reviewed articles on how anti-trafficking measures play out in border zones.

Download the 2nd Issue of the Review

Table of Contents

View original 198 more words

Heroes, Villains, and Victims: Why the Anti-Trafficking Discourse is Problematic

downtown CT


I say that trafficking prevention is about addressing social inequities, and not about targeting or demonizing traffickers, because in order to do the latter, one needs a “victim” and an “aggressor.” This irradiates the conditions that make trafficking a viable means of income for traffickers and make victims of trafficking vulnerable to coercion and exploitation. The construction of “victims” and “aggressors” in the discourse of trafficking is unhelpful, and it only neglects a fuller analysis of the social conditions and material realities that the trafficker and trafficked grapple with. This is an analog of the “good guys/Heroes” “bad guys/Anti-Heroes” “damsel in distress” narrative that characterizes the Western story-telling tradition.

Am I saying that there are no victims? No. To the contrary, I am saying that this popular narrative among anti-trafficking activists, lobbyists, feminists, and the like facilitates a re-victimizing of survivors of trafficking in synchrony with the demonizing of traffickers. The impetus to ‘save’ victims of trafficking is not an impetus to recognize the agency of survivors and traffickers. By representing traffickers as ‘exceptional’ figures- notably in the classist, racialized trope of the “pimp,” anti-trafficking discourse occludes the truth that traffickers are often those closest to the victim. In many cases, traffickers are parents, family members, intimate partners, neighbors, teachers, religious leaders, police officers, and other ‘trusted’ authority figures. The trafficker is not simply the shadowy figure in the alley who ‘snatches’ runaways or migrants.

The popular discourse trafficking tends to center on women and girls as victims, conflating sex trafficking w the sex trade while displacing the majority of trafficking cases- domestic/forced labor/organ trafficking. This same discourse also facilitates an uneven gaze upon the gendered (and often, racialized) bodies of sex workers via inflated reports of sex trafficking. The “Rescue Industry” enacts this through the surveillance and policing of sex workers, and their subsequent arrest and entry into cycles of recidivism through ‘brothel raids.’ These ‘brothel raids’ typically traumatize and criminalize sex workers and survivors of sex trafficking, most of whom are cis-women and transwomen.

Even “End the Demand” efforts targeting ‘Johns’ unwittingly target and criminalize sex workers- particularly transwomen in the sex industry. ‘Johns’ are assumed to be heterosexual, cis-gender (or “male-bodied”)* men. These assumptions of heteronormativity are dangerous, however, as they doubly criminalize transwomen. One example is the Chicago Police Department’s practice of posting the mugshots of of ‘Johns’ who were arrested and charged with soliciting online in order to ‘shame’ them. Thing is, researchers at DePaul University found that 10 percent of the photos are of transwomen (likely sex workers) who were misgendered as men by police officers and arrested as “johns.”

The “White Savior” impetus manifests itself frequently in anti-trafficking organizations representations of themselves. For example, one organization tellingly named “Saving Innocence” offers would-be anti-trafficking activists a chance to “buy her freedom.” Yes, they propose that anti-trafficking activists fuel trafficking in order to save the ‘exceptional’ victim. Who is this ‘exceptional victim?’ She is typically a cis-gendered Eastern European girl or woman with blond hair, pale skin, and blue eyes. She is “innocence” unlike ‘presumably ‘hypersexual’ African-descended or Latina women who are trafficked into the sex industry. Orientalism rears its head in the anti-trafficking discourse when the ‘victim’ is an Asian woman or girl. A good example is Nick Kristof’s January 2004 column where he reported on ‘buying’ two Cambodian girls’ freedom for $353. He positions himself as a benevolent White Savior gracing the lives of poor trafficked Cambodian girls. He never questions that he fuels the human trafficking industry by ‘saving’ these victims that he’s deemed exceptional. He never questions the gross inequality between the himself and these girls. He never questions his complicity in trafficking. Instead, he silences the girls and tells their story in his typical self-aggrandizing manner.


* I avoid using “male-bodied” or “female-bodied” because it is extremely problematic terminology. The terms themselves do not capture the reality that sex is assigned and ascribed, not innate.

An Overview of ‘Trafficking in Persons’ or ‘Human Trafficking’


According to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, Article 3(a), trafficking in persons is defined thusly:

“Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the  giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a  person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;”

In sum, trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, receipt of persons for the purpose of exploitation. In this chain of acts, all participants are traffickers.

In legal terms, trafficking in persons is broken down into 3 parts: 1) Action 2) Means 3) Purpose. Action is the actual act of trafficking. Means is the ‘how’ of trafficking. Finally, the purpose (mens rea) of trafficking is exploitation. In order to establish a legal case, lawyers must prove all 3. Action and means are typically easier to prove than purpose, which is highly circumstantial.

In practice, trafficking is complicated. The legal definition says “transportation,” but not all trafficking victims are transported. Understandings of trafficking that hinge on “transportation” will tend to conflate smuggling with trafficking. Smuggling is defined in the UN Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime as:

“the procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident;”

What separates smuggling from trafficking is the absence of exploitation. Smuggling becomes trafficking when, for example, smugglers demand higher fees after bringing migrants to a transit or destination country, thereby forcing migrants into a situation of debt peonage or debt bondage.


Trafficking takes on many forms in many sectors.

  • illegal (transnational) adoption
  • sexual exploitation
  • coerced labor in agriculture, the service industry, domestic work, construction, sports, and so on.
  • child brides
  • recruitment of children into armed conflict
  • forced begging
  • removal of organs

Human trafficking worldwide is very complex. Trafficking overlaps with traditional forms of slavery, and often follows historical migration and trade routes and newer migration and trade routes. In other words, human trafficking is a problem internally, regionally, and internationally. In West and Central Africa, trafficking is recognized as a problem in 70% of nations in the respective regions. In East and Southern Africa, trafficking is recognized as a problem in a third of the countries. In West and North Africa, the trafficking of Africans into Europe is a problem exacerbated by pressures exerted by forces of globalization, which drive capital flow northward, and correspondingly, drive eurocentric migration.

Traditional slavery manifests in Northern Ghana and parts of Togo, when young girls are „donated“ to priests and are forced to live as ‚wives‘ and submit sexually to the shrine priests in return for the protection of the families.“ (15, „Trafficking in Human Beings, Especially Woman and Children, in Africa“, UNICEF Innocenti Research Center) In central and western Africa, impoverished families (especially in the face of food insecurity- as seen in Niger in the past year, where a famine meant increased attention on child brides) might marry their young daughters off to much older men- subjecting them to destitution, abandonment through divorce. In Kenya and Ethiopia, girls who are married off at a young age are a runaway risk- many of whom end up in urban centers like Addis Ababa, Mombasa, and Nairobi where trafficking in the sex industry is a known problem.  The risks of sex work- sexually transmitted diseases/infections, increased likelihood of abuse- only exacerbate the vulnerability of these young women.

In Northern Tanzania, the mining industry (tanzanite and gold) drives demand for human trafficking.  Additionally, the mines drive demand for the sex trade in their vicinities, which is answered in turn by active recruitment among young women with the promise of fast cash.  Just recently, Bloomberg published a story highlighting the gross abuses and violence in the mines of Tanzania.  In Ghana, the 10th biggest exporter of gold, thousands of children are forced to work in the dangerous mines. Similarly, debt bondage and sex slavery occur in proximity to these mines. In response, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) have formed the The Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Coalition and launched projects such as their Community Resistance to Slavery and Forced Labor (CRSFL), which helps vulnerable communities “organize and create community-based action plans to eradicate slavery.”  The project offers miners alternative means of revenue, via economic assistance intended to foster economic self-sufficiency and autonomy.

It is useful to talk about trafficking in terms of push and pull factors. What would make the child of a smallholder farmer in Niger vulnerable to trafficking? What drives their parents’ decision to enter into an uneven contracts with distant family members or acquaintances that stipulate sending their child away to be an apprentice for a small business owner? Push factors could include:

  • Climate change [desertification, flooding, etc] and the resultant displacement of subsistence farmers and pastoral groups
  • Poor management of natural resources
  • Land dispossession
  • Poverty [e.g. the increased reliance upon cash economies and the global food market makes low-income households vulnerable to price-induced food security]
  • Low wages
  • Social marginalization [e.g. the transnational trafficking of stateless Rohingya people (who originate from Burma) into Malaysia by Thai police and army officers]
  • Lack of opportunities in home communities

Pull factors include:

  • Perceived opportunity elsewhere

I am hesitant to address the pull factors of trafficking, because, then I risk the appearance of victim-blaming or contradicting the definition of trafficking as being coerced. Persons who are trafficked are indeed lured into coercive situations. Recruiters, in the form of modeling scouts, sports scouts, labor recruiters for temp agencies, even religious leaders, who make promises that appeal to the trafficking victim’s sense of lack. They might promise opportunities to earn money, pursue their studies or become famous. Here is where trafficking prevention would step in. Trafficking prevention should be about addressing social inequities, and not about targeting or demonizing traffickers.


Youth Unemployment and Education in Africa

Cross-linked at Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges’ site

In the year 2005, Africa’s youth unemployment was at 21 percent, much higher than the world average of 14.4 percent and second only to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s 25.6 percent.


Youth Population by Economic Activity Status in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1997 and 2007- Credit: ILO

Youth unemployment in Africa is a problem of alarming proportions precisely because 65 percent of the continent’s population is under the age of 24, with over 40 percent of the total population below the age of 16, and about 25 percent between the ages 15 and 24. According to the International Labour Office (ILO), youth make up approximately 36.9 percent of the total working-age population and about 60 percent of Africa’s unemployed are youth.

While Africa’s nations have seen economic growth that outstrips other continents, the high share of young people (ages 15–24) who are unemployed has the potential to undermine that growth. In addition to the economic costs of youth unemployment, there is also a social cost. As youth face long-term or cyclical unemployment, they can become disaffected and dis-invested in their own communities. This can lead to higher crime rates and greater involvement in underground economic activity, as well as social unrest.

A 2008 World Bank report entitled “Youth and Employment in Africa: The Potential, the Problem, the Promise” indicates that access to education is still a major hurdle. For example, in Kenya and Uganda, school fees were too costly for poor families, and enrollment rates were low. However, after Kenya and Uganda eliminated the school fees, completion rates for fourth and fifth graders from impoverished families increased initially.

In the case of Kenyan schools, the elimination of school fees was not enough, as detailed by a Center for Global Development working paper entitled “Why Did Abolishing Fees Not Increase Public School Enrollment in Kenya?

Even where school enrollment increased, schools tended not to hire more teachers to accommodate their growing student body, resulting in lower qualities of education. Another factor- particularly in rural areas- is the the proximity of schools. The cost (in time or money- especially in terms of fuel use) to get to and from school is prohibitive to many parents.

As a continent, Africa has a long way to go in terms of educating, training its youth and providing opportunities to be economically active. Between heads of states who are not beholden to constitutional tenure clauses, the failure to make education generally accessible and relevant, and the burgeoning influx of migrant workers from Europe, Africa’s youth face a number of challenges. As Africa’s nations grow economically, we must be mindful of the fact that growing GDPs are not synonymous with less socio-economic inequality.

In fact, John Githongo, chief executive of Inuka Kenya Trust and chairman of the Africa Institute for Governing With Integrity and Kenya’s former secretary for governance and ethics, points out that as growth speeds up, so does inequality. In light of youth unemployment on the continent of Africa, this has huge implications on the social and political stability of Africa’s nations.


What can be done to lower unemployment rates among Africa’s youth?

How can we better equip our youth for today’s labor market?

How can we enable African youth to become job creators without saddling them with debt?