The Committee on the Rights of the Child issued its new General Comment on Adolescents. Among other advancements, the new general comment:
- Recognizes that states should remove parental authorization requirements for SRH info and services (para. 60)
- Urges states to consider introducing a presumption of capacity for adolescents seeking preventative and time-sensitive SRH commodities and services (para. 39)
- Urges states to decriminalize abortion to ensure that girls have access to safe abortion and post-abortion services, review legislation with a view to guaranteeing the best interests of pregnant adolescents and ensure that pregnant adolescents’ views are always heard and respected in abortion-related decisions (para. 60)
- Recognizes that the voluntary and informed consent of the adolescent should be obtained whether or not the consent of a parent or guardian is required for any medical treatment or procedure (para. 39)
- Calls on states to take into account the need to balance protection and evolving capacities in defining the legal age for sexual consent and avoid criminalizing adolescents of similar ages for factually consensual and non-exploitative sexual activity (para. 40)
- Calls for age-appropriate, comprehensive and inclusive sexual and reproductive health education, based on scientific evidence and human rights standards and developed with adolescents to be part of the mandatory school curriculum and reach out-of-school adolescents (para. 61)
This is some of the first language in a treaty body general comment reconciling adolescents’ evolving capacities with the ability to consent to SRH services, explicitly affirming adolescents’ autonomy and decision-making in the context of their SRHR, and addressing the issue of sexual consent for adolescents. Over the course of 2015, the Center for Reproductive Rights hosted briefings with the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Special Rapporteur on Health raising some of these normative gaps, and we are thrilled that both mandates have taken steps to further strengthen the standards around adolescents’ SRHR. The Special Rapporteur’s Report on Adolescents (issued last spring) similarly recognizes adolescents’ right to make confidential and autonomous decisions on accessing health services and urges a presumption of competence for adolescents seeking SRH services.