This page offers topic-specific guidance on the use of the Human Rights and Reproductive Health Matrix, created by United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-supported POLICY Project Human Rights Working Group. To view other aspects of the Matrix, including guidance on other topics, please click on the Matix icon above.

Adolescents Reproductive Health (ARH)

Definition

ARH is a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system of people between the ages of 10 and 19.

Links to Reproductive Health

In most countries, sexual activity precedes marriage, as individuals become sexually active between the ages of 10 and 20. However, adolescents are less able than adults to meet their sexual and reproductive health needs, because of their age, social status, and legal and policy barriers to providing services to unmarried adolescents. Many cultures do not acknowledge adolescent sexuality, especially that of unmarried girls, resulting in neglect of their reproductive health needs. In addition, girls who are married while they are still adolescents also face sexual and reproductive health risks.

Human Rights Implicated

Right to health: Adolescents, like adults, have the right to health including sexual and reproductive health. The right to health and to sexual and reproductive health means that all individuals should be able to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and to have access to the means and services to enable them to maintain or restore health. The fact that an individual is not an adult does not exclude her or him from enjoying the right to reproductive and sexual health information and services.

Right to access reproductive health services and facilities: Adolescents, like adults, have the right to affordable, high-quality services that are confidential and respect their privacy. Few countries provide adequate reproductive health care services for adolescents or have clear policies on adolescent access to contraceptives. Also there are restrictive laws and policies that limit adolescents' right to access health facilities. These include regulations that require a minimum age, parental consent, or that a person be married to receive reproductive health care services.

Right to non-discrimination: Adolescents, like adults, have the right to equal access to adequate health care and services, regardless of sex, race, marital or health status. Legal, social and economic barriers to adolescent access to reproductive health care violate their right to enjoy the highest attainable level of health on an equal basis with adults, and therefore discriminate against them.

Right to education and information: Both young men and women, like adults, have the right to education and information about health, including about reproductive health and family planning, to enable them to decide freely and responsibly on issues of reproduction and sexuality. Denying adolescents access to education and information violates their rights and places them at risk of pregnancy, complications of abortion, and HIV and other STIs.

Right to be protected from all forms of physical and mental abuse and from all forms of sexual exploitation: Adolescents have the right to protection from all forms of physical or mental violence, including sexual abuse. The Convention on the Rights of the Child commits States to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation including traditional harmful practices such as female genital cutting and early marriages.

Relevant Human Rights Documents

Convention on the Rights of the Child According to Article 24, States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services. Article 13(1) provide that "the child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds." Article 17 goes further in providing that, "States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health." Article 19 (1) commits States Parties to take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.

Committee on the Rights of a Child, General Comment 4 of 2003, CRC/GC/2003/4 Para 28 states "state parties should provide adolescents with access to sexual and reproductive information, including on family planning and contraceptives, the dangers of early pregnancy, the prevention of HIV/AIDS and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, state parties should ensure that adolescents have access to appropriate information, regardless of their marital status and whether their parents or guardians consent."

Para 31 states, "Adolescent girls should have access to information on the harm that early marriage and early pregnancy cause, and those who become pregnant shall have access to healthcare services sensitive to their rights and particular needs."

Beijing Platform for Action Para 267: The International Conference on Population and Development recognized, in paragraph 7.3 of the Programme of Action, that "full attention should be given to the promotion of mutually respectful and equitable gender relations and particularly to meeting the educational and service needs of adolescents to enable them to deal in a positive and responsible way with their sexuality". Taking into account the rights of the child to access to information, privacy, confidentiality, respect and informed consent, as well as the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents and legal guardians to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in conformity with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. Support should be given to integral sexual education for young people with parental support and guidance that stresses the responsibility of males for their own sexuality and fertility and that help them exercise their responsibilities

Key Human Rights Arguments You Could Use

Full access to reproductive health care services: It is true that age appropriate messages that encourage abstinence for adolescents are key to pregnancy prevention and STIs, but for many adolescents, sexual initiation occurs before they receive adequate information on potential risks. It is therefore essential for them to be provided with full access to reproductive health care services.

'Evolving capacities of the child' standard': The CRC requires State Parties to respect parents' responsibilities, rights and duties, but the convention clearly limits parental rights in that they must be exercised consistently with "evolving capacities of the child". The standard is particularly relevant when determining an adolescent's right to make an autonomous decision about his or her reproductive life because it implies that there is a point at which an adolescent should have full responsibility of his or her own decisions. (CRLP and Child and Law Foundation, State of Denial: Adolescents Reproductive Rights in Zimbabwe).

'Best interests of the child' standard: The CRC also states the principle that, in all actions concerning children, the "best interests of the child shall be primary consideration." Policies and practices that prevent adolescents from seeking and obtaining protection methods and information rarely prevent sexual activity altogether but rather it increases the health risks to the child. One could therefore argue that these policies and practices are in direct conflict with the best interests of the child. (CRLP and Child and Law Foundation, State of Denial: Adolescents Reproductive Rights in Zimbabwe).

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