The trafficking of children: exploitation, sexual slavery and the League of Nations

by Elizabeth A. Faulkner (University of Hull) and Cathal Rogers (Staffordshire University)

This paper was presented at the EHS Annual Conference 2019 in Belfast.

 

pexels-photo-276988
Child trafficking graffiti on brick. Available at Pexels.

The trafficking of children receives extensive media coverage today, with endless tales of exploited and enslaved children. But these reports are not isolated.

For example in 1923, the League of Nations Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Women and Children heard that ‘The White slave traffic assumed large proportions; young girls – and even young boys – swelled the personnel of the over-numerous houses of ill-fame’.[1] The purpose of our study is to identify whether fears of the sexual enslavement of children during the era were legitimate or the product of a ‘moral panic’.

The issue of human trafficking is a relatively new area of international law, but the issue has appeared on numerous occasions as an issue of grave moral concern at the international level for over a century. In 1921, the League of Nations passed the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children.

This Convention marked a notable departure from the overtly racialised focus of previous attempts to address this issue of human trafficking namely, the 1904 and 1910 White Slave Traffic Conventions.[2]

Our study investigates the trafficking and exploitation of children between 1922 and 1929 through an examination of the archives of the League of Nations, Geneva. The inquiry sought to uncover recorded cases of child trafficking through focusing on the Summary of Annual Reports submitted to the Traffic in Women and Children Committee.

In terms of references to ‘trafficking’, from the 324 responses (1922-1929) considered by this inquiry, only 11 references to trafficking were identified. As a percentage, that is just 3.3% of responses.

Our research seeks to understand the exploitation of children during the 1920s, beyond ‘trafficking for immoral purposes’. Identifying the types of exploitation that children experienced globally, whether for commercial or economic gain, sexual gratification or adoption.

The aim of the research is to challenge and enrich our understanding of morals, race and the exploitation of children in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, through deconstructing fears of the sexual enslavement of children.

The inquiry seeks to readdress the racial bias of previous examinations of the human trafficking of the era and to expand our knowledge of trafficked and or exploited children in the legacy of the ‘White Slavery Conventions’.

 

Notes:

[1] De Reding De Bibberegg, Delegate of the International Red Cross Committee and the International Red Cross Committee and the International ‘Save the Children’ Fund in Greece. League of Nations, Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Women and Children, Minutes if the Second Session, Geneva March 22nd – 27th 1923 at 65

[2] The ‘White Slavery Conventions’ namely the International Agreement for the Suppression of White Slave Traffic 1904, the International Convention for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic 1910, the International Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Women and Children 1921 and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women of Full Age 1933

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