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Childhood and youth

Few crimes elicit collective condemnation more quickly than those involving children: ‘Child labour’, ‘child trafficking’, ‘child slavery’. These all apparently represent the ‘worst of the worst’, and in each case the prefix ‘child’ renders the bad awful. This is the power of the concept ‘childhood’. It is reflected in the assumed and unquestioned ‘rightness’ of campaigns to ‘abolish child labour’ or to ‘end child slavery’. Everyone is on board. From media celebrities and abolitionist activists to morally questionable governments and powerful international agencies, all claim to know what childhood ‘is’ and thus what needs to be done to protect it. This is highly problematic for at least two reasons. First, the premises, rationales, and underlying concepts powering contemporary child savers are seriously shaky. Indeed, they are quite often narrow, ethnocentric and highly particular. Second, the actions and interventions of these same child savers can be extremely damaging to the very children and young people they seek to support. Read on...



Open essay: a better approach to child work

As the UN considers its position on child labour, a global group of experts lay out the case against a universal minimum age. Blanket bans cannot prevent exploitation, only more nuanced approaches do that.

Saving the children with songs and light refreshments

If the conversation at the ILO's ‘high level panel discussion on child labour’ had lived up to its name the world might have started to make progress on this important issue.

What’s wrong with the World Day Against Child Labour?

Working children everywhere reject the mainstream anti-child labour paradigm. A major new video campaign tells us why.

Response to Human Rights Watch's letter on minimum-age standards with respect to child labour

As the UN considers its position on child labour, a group of academics and practitioners have engaged in open debate with Human Rights Watch over the utility of minimum age rules. This is the third letter in a series.

Supporting working children as social, political, and economic agents

Peru’s movement of working children offers a visionary model for collaborative, caring, and egalitarian communities where children are valued as full participants in economic, social, and political life.

Open letter: a better approach to child work

As the UN considers its position on child labour, 59 experts lay out the case against a universal minimum age. Blanket bans cannot prevent exploitation, only more nuanced approaches do that.

Child trafficking: what are we really talking about?

The moral panic over child trafficking detracts from important questions about children and childhood, the state, and immigration. We worry about child trafficking, but what exactly is it?

Doing more harm than good: the politics of child trafficking prevention in South Africa

Recently introduced anti-trafficking regulations in South Africa are doing more harm than good. This is because they have been driven by panic and international pressure, not evidence.

Beyond child trafficking

Not all child mobility is ‘trafficking’ and some forms of child mobility might not be detrimental to children’s interests and welfare.

Fake morals and forced identities for young migrants in Europe

Young migrants live dynamic lives, yet dominant conceptions only allow them two identities: ‘victim of child trafficking’ or ‘illegal migrant’. These identities are forced and based on fake morals.

The creation of ‘trafficking’

Trafficking received its current definition only fifteen years ago. Since that time, the policies pursued in its name have done incalculable damage to the children they purport to protect.

Working children: rights and wrongs

Many children improve their current and future lives through work. Programmes to protect working children should operate within the children’s interests, not ban them from their employment.

What do children need most: saving, rights or solidarity?

All the major critiques of ‘child-saving’ fall short of the mark. We must reconceptualise our solidarity with the poor if we really want to help protect the world’s children.

The (anti-)politics of ‘child protection’

Child protection services in war zones are inadequate because they do not challenge the sources of violence. To fully protect children organisations must become political.

Young people's migration and the pursuit of status

Young people’s mobility must be understood within processes of change. Migration provides opportunities to achieve status, an under-recognised yet important aspect of young persons’ lives.

The cognitive dissonance between child rescue and child protection

‘Saving orphans’ has become an industry that irrevocably harms children and undermines the development of child welfare systems. We must replace the drive to rescue with the desire to protect.

Pathologising young people’s movement

The independent movement of children is inevitably rendered as ‘trafficking’ due to core assumptions regarding what constitutes a proper childhood. Any deviation from these norms is held suspect.

Child rights in the chocolate industry: a rocky road to progress

This piece examines media coverage of child exploitation in the cocoa industry, arguing that lasting change in this area will only come from a holistic and evidence-based approach in policymaking.

Child work, schooling and mobility

Conventional wisdom holds that child labour and education are mutually exclusive, yet many children work and migrate in order to attend school.

Children in global sex work and trafficking discourses

It is too simple to frame children involved in child prostitution in India and ‘sex trafficking’ in Canada as mere victims. Their roles in these phenomena are far more complex.

Prohibiting children from working is a bad idea

Child labour is not intrinsically exploitative, and its prohibition is based more in western conceptions of childhood than research. Laws should prevent the exploitation of children, not children’s work outright.

Children, capitalism and slavery

Romanticism saw child workers as slaves and pushed to remove children from the labour market. While some working children agreed, others welcomed the chance to contribute to the family budget.

Are we really saving the children?

BTS editors introduce their issue on 'generations' by arguing that contemporary child savers often damage the children they seek to save because they operate under severely flawed assumptions.

Child trafficking: ‘worst form’ of child labour, or worst approach to young migrants?

Child trafficking is often used synonymously with child labour migration. This framing does a disservice to many child migrants, who change place for many reasons, and new thinking is necessary.

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