Globally adolescents face many barriers to accessing health, in particular sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and products. Barriers include distance from facilities and services, lack of transport, lack of available commodities, poverty, inherited beliefs, harmful practices, and hostile staff attitudes. Many of these are linked to socio-economic challenges, however, one major impediment is self-inflicted by countries and stands in the way of national and regional development - the legal restrictions by way of “Age of Consent” requirements imposed on adolescents accessing SRH services and products. The removal of Age of Consent requirements will no doubt promote gender equality, help end child marriage, reduce teenage pregnancy, reduce the dropout rates of girls from secondary school, lower HIV incidence rates, and achieve the prerequisite for the demographic dividend.
The SRHR Africa Trust (SAT), previously Southern African AIDS, in collaboration with TrustLaw and 20 global law firms coordinated by Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, recently reviewed the Age of Consent laws in 22 countries – Botswana Brazil, Canada, England and Wales, France, Jamaica, India, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Nigeria, Thailand, South Africa, Swaziland, Sweden, Tanzania, Ukraine. Vietnam, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Countries included in the review were chosen to highlight a spread of geography; cultures; development status; non-achievement, in-transition and achievement of the demographic dividend; and adolescent health outcomes.
The research outcomes presented in the 22 Age of Consent Country reports and in the Age of Consent Global Legal Review offer invaluable insights on nine key issues affected by age of consent;
- age of consent for sexual intercourse;
- access to contraception,
- access to emergency contraceptives,
- access to antiretroviral therapy, including pre and post exposure prophylaxis,
- access to safe abortions and post abortion care,
- access to ante-natal care,
- access to human papilloma virus vaccine,
- HIV testing, and
- direct disclosure of HIV status to an adolescent.
The reports note that the majority of countries in the region have placed arbitrary legal barriers to adolescents’ access by creating policies or laws with a number of parental consent and other restrictions, preventing adolescents from managing their own healthcare.
In addition to the legal reviews, SAT collaborated with UNICEF to undertake the Ethical, Cultural and Social review in eleven countries (Brazil, England, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Nigeria, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, Philippines and Uganda) to look at ethical cultural and social barriers impacting adolescent access to health and services including SRH services.
SAT and its project partners hope these resources will generate dialogue and action among policymakers, legislators, development agencies, international cooperating partners, and activists that will remove all legal barriers to adolescent access to SRH services and allow attention and resources to focus on the remaining and more intractable barriers.
Read the 22 country reports and legal review summary, as well as a global analysis here.