‘Why Was He Videoing Us?’: The ethics and politics of audio-visual propaganda in child trafficking and human trafficking campaigns


  • Sam Okyere
  • Nana K Agyeman
  • Emmanuel Saboro




Volta, Ghana, child trafficking, abolitionist


This paper is a critical reflection on the ethical and political issues associated with the creation and dissemination of unsettling images and videos for child trafficking and human trafficking abolitionist campaigns. The paper acknowledges efforts by anti-trafficking campaigners to address accusations of poverty porn, stigmatisation, and sensationalism directed at such visual propaganda. However, it also observes that these remedial measures have had very little impact. Anti-child trafficking and anti-human trafficking campaigns are still dominated by sensational spectacles of victimhood, abjection, pain, and suffering. The paper attributes this inertia to campaigners’ fears that radical deviation from the use of emotive or ‘biting’ visuals may undermine their established narratives, campaign goals, and even credibility. It supports this conclusion using path dependence theory and the findings of research with residents of remote island communities on the Lake Volta in Ghana who have been the focus of extensive anti-child-trafficking raids and campaigns over the last decade.


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Author Biographies

Sam Okyere

Sam Okyere is a socio-anthropologist and Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS), University of Bristol. He is primarily interested in the linkages between human and child rights, power, class, ethnicity, (un)freedom, inequality, globalisation, and the legacies of slave trade and colonisation, mainly but not exclusively in African contexts. Over the past decade, he has explored these issues through extensive field research on child and youth labour (in agriculture, mining, fishing, and other sectors) migration, artisanal mining, sex work, forced labour, trafficking, and other phenomena popularly labelled as ‘modern slavery’.

Nana K Agyeman

Nana K Agyeman is an expert in international human rights law, public international law, and public law. He is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Law, Policing and Forensics, Staffordshire University. He is interested in the intersections (if any) of international law and international policing on the question of criminal jurisdiction in Africa. His recent research is on ‘policing’ rescue operations of anti-trafficking NGOs in Ghana to present a counter-narrative.

Emmanuel Saboro

Emmanuel Saboro is a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for African and International Studies, University of Cape Coast, Ghana, and a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), African Humanities Program. He is an interdisciplinary scholar with research interests centred on the use of literature, folklore, and oral history for explorations of the impact of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade on Africa, literary manifestations of the slave experience, nineteenth and twentieth century African abolitionism, and anti-slavery discourses. Most recently, his research has focused on memory, trauma, resistance, and identity construction in northern Ghana.




How to Cite

Okyere, S., Agyeman, N., & Saboro, E. (2021). ‘Why Was He Videoing Us?’: The ethics and politics of audio-visual propaganda in child trafficking and human trafficking campaigns. Anti-Trafficking Review, (16), 47–68. https://doi.org/10.14197/atr.201221164