Meet the Author: The Trafficking of Children: International Law, Modern Slavery, and the Anti-trafficking Machine

Dr Elizabeth A. Faulkner, Keele University

In our Meet the Book Author Series, the Journal of Law and Society and the Centre of Law and Society provide first-hand accounts from authors who have recently contributed notable socio-legal books to their respective fields. In this post, we hear from Elizabeth A. Faulkner, whose new book The Trafficking of Children: International Law, Modern Slavery, and the Anti-trafficking Machine was published in April 2023 with Palgrave Macmillan.

What is the book about? 

The trafficking of children holds a unique position as an issue of significant contemporary relevance, occupying a principal place in debates about human rights today. The child trafficking field emerged from concerns of child labour and collided with the anti-sex trafficking field in the 1990s. This created a toxic cocktail of concern and hysteria about the phenomena and how this evil practice should be eradicated to save the world’s children. This notion of saving children is problematic, as the law and policy frameworks create unequal, unjust, and discriminatory access to those they purport to protect, in this case children. Undoubtedly the abuse of a child is abhorrent and the book does not seek to detract from that but seeks to question why children and in turn childhood are constructed within a protectionist discourse, that seeks to protect children with one hand but often with the other conflicts with the rights of those it purports to protect and their voices or agency.

The interchangeable terms human trafficking and “modern slavery” evoke emotive responses and proclamations about the abolition of contemporary ills, viewed as the ultimate aberration when a child is involved. Legislative mechanisms and policies enacted to “protect” can often cause harm and establish differing levels of protection afforded to those who conform to standardised ideals of “child victims”. For those who do not sit neatly within the category of child victim, they are often demonised and excluded from the parameters of “protection” afforded by the law. This demarcation between deserving and undeserving children within the broader context of child exploitation is fascinating, and not isolated to one legal jurisdiction alone. This is where my interest in language creeps to the fore, and how the law both responds and treats children in differing ways. The book seeks to centralise child trafficking within the theoretical framework that the author identifies as the “anti-trafficking machine”, as a lens to examine and illuminate how child trafficking law and policy is rooted in a set of racialised, gendered, and imperial considerations.

You may wonder, why the focus upon children? The book focuses exclusively upon children, but that focus is driven by my intellectual curiosity upon how the law responds to children and demarcates between different categories or statuses of privilege attached to individuals. The perception that children is a concrete and discrete category or measurable category is one that is grappled within the body of this book and for some the question is answered under ther the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (hereafter the CRC). The CRC proclaims that a ‘child means every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.’ Although prima facie an international standard of childhood has been accepted, in practice drawing a clear-cut distinction between “children” and “youth” or “adolescents” is difficult. For example, the UN asserts that a child falls between the age range of 0 and 17, whilst a youth is anyone between the ages of 15 and 24.[1] Differences in operational or practical understandings of children are even more problematic within the context of “children on the move”. The Westernised ideal that children are, fixed, inherently local and within the protective family environment conflicts to an extent with the picture offered by the United Refugee Agency and its Refugee Data Finder for example. Ultimately, the CRC filled a void, providing an international agreement upon the definition of childhood. 

The fact remains that a distinction is drawn between children and adults under international law, replicated through regional and domestic legislation globally. The classification of children under legal frameworks marks them as different, as “other” and in the context of laws implemented to address trafficking, slavery, and children on the move more generally this distinction is complicated. Under the anti-trafficking legal architecture implemented, that distinction remains through the omission of the means element contained within the Trafficking Protocol through Article 3. When it comes to the specific issue of child trafficking the existing body of literature is predominately ahistorical in nature, neglecting what I classify as the hidden histories of child trafficking and how they have shaped and informed contemporary international, regional, and domestic law and policy. This book seeks to address this gap in a small but hopefully meaningful way through cataloguing the emergence, decline and re-emergence of child trafficking law and policy during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.


[1] See further http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/documents/youth/fact-sheets/youth-definition.pdf Accessed August 2018 

Why did I write it? 

I had the aspiration from the start of my doctoral research that the final product from the research would be a monograph, which does not necessarily correlate with the preference or the perceived preference for journal articles. The idea of a monograph emerged from something my first supervisor mentioned in passing, and it had a lasting impact upon me. I felt so inspired after hearing Joel Quirk speak at Kings College London and that I started to write the proposal on the train ride home. I did not submit the book by the original date and something we need to acknowledge more in academia is rejection, failure and delays that frequently outnumber the successes. It’s a project that I have spent years upon, albeit interrupted by 3 periods of maternity leave (2 during the doctoral research which led to completion on a part-time) and the third during the 2021/2022 academic year. The impact of pregnancy loss at the end of 2019 coupled with Covid-19 and childcare again caused delays with the production of the monograph and I was tempted to dissect the project into journal articles as the size of producing a book seemed unmanageable. I am glad I persevered and that I had the opportunity to test and fine-tune the logic and my reasoning through my undergraduate third year elective module ‘Child Law’ in the Autumn term at Keele. The cohort of 2022/23 were superb, and I am indebted to their enthusiasm and active participation, which enabled me to finally let go of the draft. It’s a surreal experience, and I found letting go much more difficult than anticipated as I felt I had much more to say and that it could’ve been more polished – I am aware in the field of academia and particularly as an ECR the acute pressures for perfection. It’s not perfect, but it’s finally published. 

How did I go about doing this research? 

The monograph builds upon my doctoral research, which left me with a series of questions relating to both the historical and contemporary legal architecture implemented globally and nationally in the UK to address the exploitation and mobility of children. I felt I was not ready to let go of the doctoral research – but knew that crafting the thesis into a monograph would take substantial work and most importantly time. Time is not something we often have and is too frequently a luxury for ECRs. I have previously bought into the culture of over-work and extended hours at great personal sacrifice, which left me questioning whether academia was for me after all. 

I decided that the historical foundations of child trafficking from the White Slavery instruments to the actions of the League of Nations would be the starting point, the first obstacle was how to secure funding to undertake the research and with a significant teaching load and limited institutional support for research this was a little daunting. the archival research which is the backbone of the monograph would not have been possible without Professor Celine Tan. I was able to visit Geneva with free accommodation staying with a relative of an academic that Celine knew and was able to self-fund this visit for 4 days. The second trip was funded by the Wilberforce Institute as it coincided with a UNICEF event in Geneva, and I managed to get an additional day in the archives. I had never undertaken archival research prior to this but it sparked the revision of the book and the reformulation of my approach to the interrelated issues of children, rights, and mobility. I learnt so much about conducting archive research and the ongoing LONTAD project enabled me to further incorporate archival research throughout the monograph as I was able to access resources as they became digitised. This removed the barrier of securing external funding to conduct the research that enriched the monograph. 

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