Adolescent rights

Human rights standards

UN Treaties

While the treaty provisions that are applicable to adult women in the context of abortion are also applicable to adolescents and have been applied to adolescents by the treaty monitoring bodies (see below under General Comments/Recommendations), this section focuses primarily on provisions of the Children’s Rights Convention, as it is the only UN Convention that focuses solely on rights of minors.

UN Treaties are available in some or all official UN languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

Convention on the Rights of the Child
PARENTAL RIGHTS/DUTIES; EVOLVING CAPACITY/MATURITY - Article 5: Rights and duties of parents to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of his/her rights.
RIGHT TO EXPRESS VIEWS; EVOLVING CAPACITY/MATURITY - Article 12: Children have right to express views in all matters affecting them.  Such views are to be given due weight according to the age and maturity of child
RIGHT TO PRIVACY - Article 16: Affords young people the right to freedom from interference with their privacy and the right to protection against unlawful interference.
PARENTAL DUTIES; BEST INTEREST OF CHILD - Article 18: Parents or legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern. States shall render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians for care of children.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
SPECIAL PROTECTION OF CHILDREN - Article 24:  Children shall be provided special protection because of their status as a minor.
General Comments/Recommendations(are available in some or all of the official UN languages of Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Russian)
Children’s Rights Committee, General Comment 4 on Adolescent Health and Development in the Context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child(2003)
States parties have not given sufficient attention to the specific concerns of adolescents as rights holders and to promoting their health and development.  This has motivated the Committee to adopt this general comment in order to raise awareness and provide States parties with guidance and support in their efforts to guarantee the respect for, protection and fulfillment of the rights of adolescents, including through the formulation of specific strategies and policies.
PRIVACY AND CONFIDENTIALITY - States are encouraged to respect ‘strictly’ adolescents right to privacy and confidentiality, including with respect advice and counseling on health matters. Information may only be disclosed with consent of the adolescent or in or in the same situations applying to the violation of an adult’s confidentiality.  ‘Adolescents deemed mature enough to receive counseling without the presence of a parent or other person are entitled to privacy and may request confidential services, including treatment. ‘(paragraph 11).
PARTICIPATION; DEVELOPMENT OF YOUTH FRIENDLY SERVICES; CONFIDENTIALITY; PRIVACY - ‘States parties should provide a safe and supportive environment for adolescents that ensures the opportunity to participate in decisions affecting their health, to build life skills, to acquire appropriate information, to receive counseling and to negotiate the health-behavior choices they make. The realization of the right to health of adolescents is dependent on the development of youth-sensitive health care, which respects confidentiality and privacy and includes appropriate sexual and reproductive health services.’ (paragraph 40).
EVOLVING CAPACITY/MATURITY - This standard relates to the adolescent’s acquisition of sufficient maturity and understanding to make informed decisions on matters of importance, including on sexual and reproductive health services. (paragraph 9).  Before parents give their consent, adolescents need to have a chance to express their views freely and their views should be given due weight...  However, if the adolescent is of sufficient maturity, informed consent shall be obtained from the adolescent her/himself, while informing the parents if that is in the “best interest of the child” (art. 3) (paragraph 32).
CONFIDENTIALITY; INFORMATION - States parties should (a) enact laws or regulations to ensure that confidential advice concerning treatment is provided to adolescents so that they can give their informed consent. Such laws or regulations should stipulate an age for this process, or refer to the evolving capacity of the child; and (b) provide training for health personnel on the rights of adolescents to privacy and confidentiality, to be informed about planned treatment and to give their informed consent to treatment. (paragraph 33).
INFORMATION; PARENTAL CONSENT - States 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 (STDs).  In addition, States parties should ensure that they have access to appropriate information, regardless of their marital status and whether their parents or guardians consent. It is essential to find proper means and methods of providing information that is adequate and sensitive to the particularities and specific rights of adolescent girls and boys.  To this end, States parties are encouraged to ensure that adolescents are actively involved in the design and dissemination of information through a variety of channels beyond the school, including youth organizations, religious, community and other groups and the media. (paragraph 28)
INFORMATION; REDUCING MATERNAL MORBIDITY AND MORTALITY; RIGHT TO SAFE ABORTION SERVICES - Adolescent girls should have access to information on the harm that early marriage and early pregnancy can cause, and those who become pregnant should have access to health services that are sensitive to their rights and particular needs.  States parties should take measures to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality in adolescent girls, particularly caused by early pregnancy and unsafe abortion practices, and to support adolescent parents.  Young mothers, especially where support is lacking, may be prone to depression and anxiety, compromising their ability to care for their child. The Committee urges States parties (a) to develop and implement programs that provide access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, contraception and safe abortion services where abortion is not against the law, adequate and comprehensive obstetric care and counseling;…(paragraph 31).
UNSAFE ABORTION; VIOLENCE - Adolescents who are sexually exploited, including in prostitution and pornography, are exposed to significant health risks, including STDs, HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, violence and psychological distress.  They have the right to physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration in an environment that fosters health, self‑respect and dignity (art. 39).  It is the obligation of States parties to enact and enforce laws to prohibit all forms of sexual exploitation and related trafficking; to collaborate with other States parties to eliminate inter-country trafficking; and to provide appropriate health and counseling services to adolescents who have been sexually exploited, making sure that they are treated as victims and not as offenders. (para 37)
Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 12: The right of the child to be heard, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/GC/12 (2009)
RIGHT TO EXPRESS VIEWS AND PARTICIPATE IN HEALTH - “the realization of the provisions of the Convention requires respect for the child’s right to express his or her views and to participate in promoting the healthy development and well-being of children. This applies to individual health-care decisions, as well as to children’s involvement in the development of health policy and services.”
Children’s Rights Committee,  General Comment 7: Implementing Child Rights in Early Childhood
NON DISCRIMINATION: “Article 2 also means that particular groups of young children must not be discriminated against....(i) Discrimination against girl children is a serious violation of rights, affecting their survival and all areas of their young lives as well as restricting their capacity to contribute positively to society. …They may be expected to undertake excessive family responsibilities and deprived of opportunities to participate in early childhood and primary education” (Para. 11.b)
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 14 on the right to the highest attainable standard of health
PARTICIPATION; INFORMATION; CONFIDENTIALITY; PRIVACY; ACCESS TO SERVICES - States parties should provide a safe and supportive environment for adolescents that ensures the opportunity to participate in decisions affecting their health, to build life skills, to acquire appropriate information, to receive counseling and to negotiate the health-behavior choices they make.  The realization of the right to health of adolescents is dependent on the development of youth-sensitive health care, which respects confidentiality and privacy and includes appropriate sexual and reproductive health services.” (para. 23)
BEST INTEREST OF CHILD - ‘In all policies and programs aimed at guaranteeing the right to health of children and adolescents their best interests shall be a primary consideration.’ (para 24).
PARENTAL CONSENT - The  obligation to protect the right to health requires States to take measures that prevent third parties from interfering with Article 12 guarantees (para. 33).
CEDAW General Recommendation 24 on Women’s Health (Article 12 of CEDAW)
States parties are encouraged to address the issue of women's health throughout the woman's lifespan. For the purposes of the present general recommendation, therefore, "women" includes girls and adolescents. The general recommendation will set out the Committee's analysis of the key elements of article 12. (paragraph 8).
PARENTAL CONSENT; The obligation to respect rights requires States parties to refrain from obstructing action taken by women in pursuit of their health goals. States parties should report on how public and private health- care providers meet their duties to respect women's rights to have access to health care. For example, States parties should not restrict women's access to health services or to the clinics that provide those services on the ground that women do not have the authorization of husbands, partners, parents or health authorities, because they are unmarried or because they are women. Other barriers to women's access to appropriate health care include laws that criminalize medical procedures only needed by women punish women who undergo those procedures. (paragraph 14). Note to reader: Please see other references to CEDAW General Recommendation 24 in other sections of the Legal Storehouse.
CEDAW General Recommendation 21 Equality in Marriage and Family Relations (1994)
PARENTAL CONSENT: Decisions to have children or not, while preferably made in consultation with spouse or partner, must not nevertheless be limited by spouse, parent, partner or Government.
Treaty Monitoring Body case law
KL v Peru (Human Rights Committee, 2005)
LC v Peru (CEDAW Committee, 2011)

Special Rapporteur Reports

PARENTAL CONSENT: UN Special Rapporteur on Health, Report on the Criminalization of Sexual and Reproductive Health (2011)
Recognizes that legal restrictions on abortion impede access, forcing risk of illegal and unsafe abortions.  He recognized that such restrictions include parental consent.  Recommends removal of barriers to abortion, decriminalization of abortion and ensuring good quality abortion services in line with WHO protocols.

Other UN bodies

Adolescent abortion
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Technical guidance on the application of a human rights- based approach to the implementation of policies and programs to reduce preventable maternal morbidity and mortality (2012).
Recognizes safe abortion services as essential for improving maternal health, recognizes that adolescent have disproportionately high rates of unsafe abortion and fear of criminal sanctions.