Complex survivors: adolescent boys and the humanitarian response to the Rohingya refugee crisis
AffiliationMelbourne School of Population and Global Health
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2023-10-06. This item is currently available to University of Melbourne staff and students only, login required.
© 2021 Shane Harrison
In humanitarian emergencies, such as a natural disaster or armed conflict, adolescents are at increased risk of encountering violence and abuse. Empirical research has found that in emergencies adolescent boys face greater exposure to child protection concerns in these settings due to their gender, age, (dis)ability, sexuality, and other social factors. However, there is limited academic understanding of how humanitarian organisations and their staff are responding to these instances of harm. In this study, I investigated how humanitarian actors are responding to the protection needs of adolescent boys in emergencies through a critical ethnographic case study of the humanitarian response to the Rohingya refugee crisis in south-eastern Bangladesh. This thesis and its analysis are based on six and a half months of participant observation that I conducted while working for a child protection organisation in the Rohingya response, 39 interviews and 10 focus group discussions that I held with humanitarian staff working across the Rohingya crisis, and 16 interviews with international humanitarian staff with experience working in humanitarian responses to other recent emergencies. Through analysis informed by intersectional theory, I found that adolescent boys are subject to multiple forms of harm due to the co-constitutive relationship between gender, age, refugee status, poverty, and other forms of social location in humanitarian emergencies. However, humanitarian actors often do not account for this dynamic in their mainstream interventions or specifically target adolescent boys through dedicated programming. Furthermore, I found that adolescents boys as survivors of sexual abuse were emblematic of this oversight, with limited accounting for their complex needs. This study contributes to literature directing critical academic attention to humanitarianism and its intervention practices. Through the application of intersectionality as a theoretical lens, I attend to the dynamic nature of risk and protection in the lives of adolescent boys and how the frameworks that structure humanitarian interventions create artificial delineations around particular social categories to determine who is, and who is not, at risk of harm. Consequently, in this thesis, I show how a humanitarian intervention based on a moral imperative to relieve suffering may paradoxically contribute to the very harm it seeks to alleviate within specific subsets of crisis-affected populations.
Keywordsadolescent boy; child sexual abuse; child protection; intersectionality; gender; humanitarianism; refugees; Rohingya; critical ethnography
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