Beyond Sexual Humanitarianism: A Post-Colonial Approach to Anti-Trafficking Law

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This Article examines from a postcolonial perspective a deep paradox in contemporary anti-trafficking law and discourse. The inordinate attention on trafficking in Western industrialized economies is disproportionate to the extent of the problem. Only 7% of the world’s 20.9 million forced laborers are in developed economies and the EU while 56% are in Asia Pacific. Yet in BRIC countries like India with a substantial majority of the world’s trafficked victims and where 90% of all trafficking is domestic, trafficking has little policy resonance. Trafficking was only recently criminalized as part of India’s extensive rape law reforms. India, however, remains an active site for sexual humanitarianism as American evangelical groups and local police dramatically raid and rescue ‘female sex slaves’ from gritty big-city brothels. As
developing countries increasingly shape international anti-trafficking law and policy, this Article proposes two ways whereby the postcolony could be far more than a site of sexual humanitarianism. First, I offer India’s bonded, contract and migrant labor laws as a robust labor law model against trafficking that could inform international legal developments. This is in contrast to the criminal justice model propagated by the UN Trafficking Protocol worldwide. Second, through a case study of Indian sex workers’ mobilization against trafficking through selfregulatory boards in a red-light area, I show how sex workers are not simply passive victims and that community-based initiatives that make sparing use of criminal law could prove more effective than conventional anti-trafficking strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number16
Pages (from-to)353-406
JournalUC Irvine Law Review
Issue number1
Early online date31 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


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