Access to sexual & reproductive health services

All children should have access to sexual and reproductive health services - whatever their age. Even very young children are at risk of sexual abuse and infections. Children should be encouraged to discuss their situation with their parents, but parental consent requirements are inappropriate and discourage children from seeking help.

The fact that a child is seeking such services to inform and protect themselves is in itself an indication of capacity. A presumption should therefore be made that a child seeking these services is capable and that access is in their best interests.

If the service provider becomes concerned that the child lacks the necessary capacity while assessing their needs, a course of action which best fulfils their best interests should be taken. This should be influenced heavily by the child’s own views.*

Read more on page 14 of our discussion paper Age is Arbitrary: Discussion paper on setting minimum ages.

Access to justice

Where a child is denied the option to select their treatment, they must be able to challenge service providers' assessment of their maturity. In this respect, access to justice acts as a safeguard against incorrect determinations as to the child's capacity by doctors. Children must have a range of avenues to challenge such decisions, including in the national legal system and at the regional and international level.

Campaigns & resources

  • CRIN's case study of L.C. v Peru - the case of a 13-year-old girl who became pregnant after being raped was denied a legal abortion, even though her physical and mental health were in danger. She was left paralysed. Thanks to her case, Peru now has a protocol on therapeutic abortion and the UN has recognised the denial of a legal abortion as a form of discrimination against women.
  • My Body My Rights is Amnesty International’s global campaign to stop the control and criminalisation of sexuality and reproduction.
  • The Center for Reproductive Rights is a global legal advocacy organisation dedicated to reproductive rights. Their cases before national courts, United Nations committees, and regional human rights bodies have expanded access to reproductive healthcare, including birth control, safe abortion, prenatal and obstetric care, and unbiased information. See their page on young people’s rights.
  • International Planned Parenthood Federation has developed a guide, Exclaim! Young People's Guide to 'Sexual Rights: An IPPF declaration' to explain young people’s sexual rights and provide guidance about how to put these into practice.
  • In 2014, Coram Children’s Legal Centre and International Planned Parenthood Federation launched a multi-country study on legal barriers to young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services.
  • The Global Alliance for LGBT Education (GALE) offers a guide for advocates on how to push for better quality in how education deals with sexual diversity. People are able to map how the right to education is respected and implemented for LGBT people in each country, thanks to this survey. Similarly, UNESCO has published a report on the implementation of quality sexuality education, offering a look at effective approaches and case studies.

    *This concurs with a position first set out by the Center for Reproductive Rights (forthcoming paper).