The Complex Equation: A and B Are Social Beings

The simple equation would require a comparison of the value of the child’s labor services to the employer, to the pay the child receives and how the child is fed and treated. Most West African children on the move, however, are not always free to operate outside their family and kinship networks, as described in the child mobility section. As Thorsen concludes, family relations are not likely to be broken by child mobility, even when the child appears to be running away without the permission of the parents. In fact, in most situations children tend to be drawn into family and kin networks at their destination sites. A more complex scrutiny of a given child mobility situation therefore requires a range of new factors to be introduced into both the cost and benefit links of the equation.

If the A-side of the equation and the B-side of the equation no longer represent individuals but instead represent extended families and networks, the role of the child may come out as a piece in a larger puzzle. The piece can be significant or minor to the overall picture, yet still affects the overall balance of the inter-household relationship. The transfer of a child can serve to (re)initiate a relationship, as suggested by Bledsoe, or constitute one part among many in an ongoing exchange that may also involve cash, credit, loans, or a countless number of other payments, goods, or services. Taking in a child can be a complete win–win situation for the two house holds and even a win–win–win situation if the child is included as an independent actor. However, it will also often constitute a net cost or a net burden to one of the parties, or at least be perceived as such.

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