On 6 December 2016, the Committee on the Rights of the Child published a new General Comment on Adolescents. The objectives of the comment were:
(a) To provide States with guidance on the legislation, policies and services needed to promote comprehensive adolescent development consistent with the realization of their rights;
(b) To raise awareness of the opportunities afforded by and challenges faced during adolescence;
(c) To enhance understanding of and respect for the evolving capacities of adolescents and the implications for the realization of their rights;
(d) To strengthen the case for greater visibility and awareness of adolescents and for investment to enable them to realize their rights throughout the course of their lives.
In relation to abortion and sexual and reproductive health and rights, the comment:
> Urges states to consider introducing a presumption of capacity for adolescents seeking preventative and time-sensitive sexual and reproductive health commodities and services (para. 39);
> 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);
> 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 states should remove parental authorization requirements for sexual and reproductive health information and services (para. 60);
> 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 sexual and reproductive health services, explicitly affirming adolescents’ autonomy and decision-making in the context of their sexual and reproductive health and rights, 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 these standards. 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 sexual and reproductive health services.
SOURCES: UN CRC General Comment C/GC/20 (in English and Russian) ; Katy Mayall, Center for Reproductive Rights, E-mail, 11 January 2017 ; PHOTO, Submission to CRC by ‘Hope For Children’ UNCRC Policy Center and the associated Law Clinic, University of Nicosia, 2015