"Traffic in Women" and International Law
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Six international conventions to combat the so-called “Mädchenhandel”,“white slavery”, “traffic in women” and “human trafficking” were adopted over the course of the 20th century. During the first half of the 20th century the issue received political and public attention to a degree as to make it possible to regulate it through international law. Five of the six international conventions were adopted between 1904 and 1949, while the last one was signed only in 2000. The phenomenon of the “trafficking in women” thus was one of the first fields for the regulation through international law along with more traditional issues, such as war and peace. A joint consideration of “trafficking” and international law thus offers a promising research topic.
Nevertheless, the international law dimension has only played a minor role in historical research on “trafficking”. So far, “trafficking” has been analysed with a view towards the multiple national as well as transnational civil society efforts and initiatives to combat „Mädchenhandel“, „white slavery“ or „traffic in women“. Some analyses have situated these efforts in the context of a “moral panic” and have, in some cases, questioned the existence of the underlying phenomenon. Studies focusing on the politics and implementation of anti-trafficking initiatives in national and local contexts, concentrated on certain regions. Research focusing on practices and implementation have pointed to an intricate connection between the politics of prostitution, migration and, more generally, sexual politics. A number of studies have analyzed the raced, gendered and classed dimensions of discourses, representations and politics in this field.
All these studies have pointed to core issues connected to histories of “trafficking”, such as prostitution, sexuality, migration, police, law and order as well as social and political efforts of civil society and media representations. A more general view of the research on the histories on trafficking reveals, however, a rather fragmented field, in particular with regard to the dimensions of international law, which often do not go far beyond teleological success stories of an international struggle against this “evil”.
This edited volume seeks to integrate all these aspects by approaching the field through actors and institutions: A number of actors in the fields of social and security politics, including networks of legal experts, contributed to the development and expansion of institutions to regulate “trafficking”.
Debates on “trafficking” were and still are structured by “mental maps” based on ideas of a poverty and civilizational gap. It stands out that at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century mostly Jewish women from Galicia were perceived of being victims of the traffic. With the process of decolonization after 1945 debates on trafficking and migrant prostitution were structured mostly through the lens of North-South-relations (“first world”-“third world”), which then again were re-structured as a gap between East and West after 1989. Against this backdrop it must be asked what it meant for the territorialization of international law that “trafficking” as a field of regulation was often connoted as “Eastern European”.