The following comments reveal some of the contradictions experienced while trying to work within the framework of ‘trafficked children’. The study was funded by the US National Institute of Justice ‘to examine the experiences of children, mostly girls, trafficked to the United States for sexual and labor exploitation and analyze their prospects for reintegration.’ I make many of the same comments in my book Sex at the Margins and am glad to see that numerous other researchers are now writing about cultural differences that mean that campaigns to save young people from doing paid work often oppress and make them unhappy. These are just a few excerpts from the article, so if you’ve got questions go to the original. I’ve highlighted some points in bold, and made sure to leave in concepts not often mentioned in debates (child fostering and child circulation).
Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 81/4, pp. 903–923, (2008)
Elzbieta M. Goździak, Institute for the Study on International Migration, Georgetown University
In the United States the system of care for trafficked children has been developed within a framework based on middle-class Western ideals about childhood as a time of dependency and innocence during which children are socialized by adults and become competent social actors. Economic and social responsibilities are generally mediated by adults so that the children can grow up free from pressures of responsibilities such as work and child care. Children who are not raised in this way are considered “victims” who have had their childhood stolen from them. This framework views universal concern for children as transcending political and social divides; assumes a universally applicable model of childhood development; presupposes a consensus on what policies should be in place to realize the best interest of the child; assumes that child victims have universal needs (such as a need for rehabilitation); and promotes a therapeutic model of service provision. . .
. . . we understood that “disagreements over [child trafficking]’s magnitude are underpinned by different understandings of the term ‘child’ and ‘trafficking’” and that “this is a conceptual and political problem that cannot be resolved by more data alone” (Manzo 2005: 394).
. . . many of the children did not consider themselves trafficked victims, but thought of their experiences as migration in search of better opportunities that turned into exploitation. Many also did not think of their traffickers as perpetrators of crime and villains; after all in some instances the traffickers were parents or close relatives.
. . . Almost all of the children were highly motivated to migrate to the US in the hope of earning money. Many of them had compelling reasons to send money home and had to repay smuggling fees. Typically, the children’s desire to earn money did not change once they were rescued. [State programs] reflect US laws requiring children to attend school, defining the age of employment and number of hours a minor child is allowed to work. . . These restrictions may run counter to many children’s goals and lead to a struggle as they adjust to their new lives. These issues have longterm consequences for the children’s commitment to education and affect their desire to remain in care. The children’s reluctance to see themselves as victims stood in sharp contrast to the perceptions of service providers who referred to the children as victims, often because the law conceptualizes them as victims.
. . . Middle-class Eurocentric ideals often assume that, apart from exceptional cases, children live in nuclear families, experience childhood together with their siblings and have access to resources provided by both biological parents. Research contradicts this assumption and documents a wide range of living arrangements experienced by children in resource-poor countries (Lloyd and Desai 1992).
. . . child fostering or child circulation is a long-standing cultural practice in many regions. . . including West Africa, . . . Latin America . . . and the Pacific. According to Demographic and Health Surveys, covering 10 African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal), the percentage of foster children ranges between 10 and 20 percent in the six to nine age bracket, and between 13 and 25 percent in the 10 to 14 age group. In the overwhelming majority of cases, both parents are alive but do not live with their children (Pilon 2003). . .
. . . In West Africa, fostering is an important technique rooted in kinship structures and traditions. Children are not sent out only in the event of crisis; sending of children is practiced by both stable and unstable families, married and single mothers (Isiugo-Abaniche 1985, 1991).
. . . According to the British Agencies for Adoptions and Fostering, 10,000 children, mostly from West Africa, were living with families other than their own in the United Kingdom in 2001 (Economist 2003). . .
. . . In Latin America, “child circulation” is a principal way in which Peruvian rural-to-urban migrants move children between houses as part of a common survival and betterment strategy in the context of social and economic inequality (Leinaweaver 2007). Poverty and vulnerability shape Peruvian practices of kinship formation through child circulation. For the receiving family, child circulation represents strategic labor recruitment; for the sending household, it spells relief from the economic burdens of child rearing and constitutes a source of highly desirable remittances. A considerable proportion of children in Mexico and Colombia were found to spend some time during childhood without a father. When births outside a union are included, one-fifth of Mexican children and one-third of Colombian children were affected. An additional five percent of Mexican children and nine percent of Colombian children do not live with their mothers (Richter 1988).
. . . For the societies involved, child circulation is a characteristic of family systems, fitting in with patterns of family solidarity and the system of rights and obligations. Fostering is a component of family structure and dynamics (Pilon 2003). Indeed, the majority of the children in our study lived with other family members or friends prior to being trafficked and most were sent to live with family members or friends in the United States and ended up being trafficked.