Shane Harrison

Humanitarian responses to the protection needs of adolescent boys in emergencies: an ethnographic case study of the Rohingya crisis response in Bangladesh

Thesis: Complex survivors: adolescent boys and the humanitarian response to the Rohingya refugee crisis



Dr Cathy Vaughan, Associate Professor Richard Chenhall, Dr Karen Block

PhD Title:

Complex survivors: adolescent boys and the humanitarian response to the Rohingya refugee crisis.


Children face escalating risk of experiencing violence in humanitarian emergencies. Adolescent boys (age 10-19) are known to be at heightened risk of specific forms of violence, including family violence, neglect, trafficking, child labour and forced recruitment. This violence takes place not only during conflict, but also in transit, refugee camps and detention settings. However, little is known about how humanitarians are responding to violence against adolescent boys in crisis situations. This PhD project aims to understand how humanitarian actors are responding to the protection needs of adolescent boys in emergencies, with a particular focus on sexual violence. Employing an ethnographic approach, humanitarian operations in the Rohingya crisis response in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, will be observed over six-months of fieldwork whilst working as a Gender Adviser for Swiss organisation Terre des Hommes. The results of this research project will be integrated back into Terre des Hommes operations, hopefully building more age and gender sensitive humanitarian operations.

What is the weirdest thing that happened while you were at the School?:

As I'm sure will be mentioned by many others in my cohort, it was riding my bike into the old building to see water dripping down through multiple levels of the underground car park and our PhD room flooded.

What is your fondest memory from your PhD?:

The friendships I made with other PhD students in the school. We were from completely different backgrounds and had different research interests, but I formed some incredibly close friendships. I also have to mention the overwhelming feeling of joy at the end of my fieldwork (but before I departed the field). There was a specific moment where I realised I had managed to pull off this incredible task, and that everything that I had spent years planning and working towards had been achieved.

What are you up to now?:

I'm currently working as a gender specialist consulting on different development and humanitarian projects. At this moment, I'm leading a small team providing technical advice for a study on adolescent sexual and reproductive health in Uganda, Kenya, and Zambia. Next year, I'm heading off to the United States on a Fulbright Scholarship to develop an assessment tool to understand barriers to service access for adolescent survivors of sexual abuse in humanitarian emergencies.

What advice would you have for current PhD students?:

I have two main pieces of advice. The first was given to me by my partner and has been a source of inspiration over the years. At a particularly difficult time, she told me 'this is your dream, don't let anyone mess it up for you'. The second, is to take the initiative to build friendships and organise events with other students. In my first year, there was little in the way of formally organised social events through the School. Don't just go for lunch in the middle of work, but make the effort to go to a bar together, play some board-games, or go for a hike. Building friendships outside of the context of theses and research planning brings so much value to the PhD experience.