Book Review: Child Migration and Human Rights in a Golden Age

"Child Migration and Human Rights in a Golden Age"
Jacqueline Bhabha
Princeton University Press
Hardback $35, Paperback $24.95

Princeton's promotional website begins its pitch for this book with the question, "Why, despite massive public concern, is child trafficking on the rise?"

After reading this important but disturbing tome it is clear there isn't any "massive public concern." While laws, conventions and treaties protecting children's rights exist on paper, implementation is sketchy at best.

"Where political will is absent, advocacy weak, and the rights-holder weaker still, de facto rightlessness is the norm," writes the author. In her view, we in the wealthy white world are "ambivalent" about refugee children because they are "other," and "not like our kids." We feel sorry for them, but we also don't want more immigrants arriving in our countries. A point she is perhaps too polite to make is that we also like buying inexpensive products made using child labor, and a minority of men enjoy raping foreign children in brothels, clearly considering them less than human.

Bhabha, a Harvard professor, examines the peril faced by children forced to flee their home, trafficked into slave-like conditions, or deported to their parents' "home" countries, even though they were born in the USA. Unaccompanied children are put in brothels, criminal gangs and sweatshops or they slip through the gaps and are left to wander the streets. A staggering proportion simply vanish. In conflict zones, they are forced to become child soldiers. In Russia and some former Soviet-bloc nations, an alarming number of people running state orphanages sell the children to traffickers. Hence one in ten children from Russian orphanages will commit suicide, while one in three will be homeless.

Reading this book, one is constantly confronted by the inhumanity of parents, as well as bureaucrats. Female children are particularly disposable in large parts of the world. "Trafficking their daughters is one way that South East Asian families generate funds to make capital improvements to their home and their land."

Returning trafficked children to abusive domestic situations or societies in which they have only monetary value seems monstrous when one considers what awaits them: at least 20% will be re-trafficked by their parents. A 14-year-old Moldovan girl, sold by her parents, was forced into prostitution in the UK. Authorities rescued her and returned her "home," where she was "gang-raped, strung up by a rope from a tree, and forced to dig her own grave. One of her front teeth was pulled out with a pair of pliers. Shortly afterwards she was re-trafficked, first to Israel and later back to the UK."

Bhabha is also unimpressed by the US authorities' attitude to children born in the USA to immigrant parents, who are deported, against the best interests of the children, and despite the
children's automatic right to American citizenship under the 14th Amendment. In the name of "keeping the family together," they are sent back to Central American nations - failing states where narco-criminals make daily life more deadly than Iraq or Syria. The fear or dislike of "the other" outweighs the "family values" in which some American politicians wrapped themselves.

It is evident Donald Trump does not do much reading, but it would serve him well to absorb the facts in this book. But then again, facts don't seem to interest his supporters.