Child Trafficking: ‘Worst Form’ of Child Labour, or Worst Approach to Young Migrants?


  • Roy Huijsmans,

    1. lecturer at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, PO Box 29776, 2502 LT The Hague, The Netherlands (e-mail: His research interests are in the field of childhood and youth studies and include migration, work, education, trafficking as discourse and young people in rural transformation.
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  • Simon Baker

    1. adjunct professor at the Institute of Population and Social Research, Mahidol University, Thailand (e-mail: His research interests focus on children, especially child labour, child prostitution, trafficking and education, and on the problem of HIV/AIDS in Asia.
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An early draft of this paper was presented at the Conference ‘Easier said than done: 20 years of children's rights between law and practice’, Institute of Child Health, University College London (11–12 June 2009). This version has greatly benefitted from comments and suggestions received from conference organizers and participants, and from the constructive feedback of the anonymous referees and the editorial board of Development and Change. Any remaining errors are the sole responsibility of the authors. The first author is grateful for the Slawson Award (through Royal Geographical Society/IBG) that contributed to financing the fieldwork on which the paper is partly based.


This article presents a critique to the human trafficking discourse in relation to child migration, based on data obtained from the anti-trafficking community in the Greater Mekong Sub-region combined with an analysis of secondary material. It also presents a set of qualitative accounts of migration at a young age from Lao PDR and Thailand. On this basis a more theorized, grounded and nuanced perspective on child labour migration is developed. This situates child labour migration historically, embeds it within overarching processes of rural transformation and accounts for young migrants’ agency in the social process of migration, the latter shedding light on the social production of exploitation in relation to young migrants.