n Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa - Female adolescents' evolving capacities in relation to their right to access contraceptive information and services : a comparative study of South Africa and Nigeria

Volume 48, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0010-4051



Adolescents' early sexual debut contributes to their huge burden of sexual and reproductive ill-health, especially in sub-Saharan African countries. Reports continually reveal that adolescents in general, and female adolescents in particular, constitute a large portion of the 34 million people living with HIV worldwide. Other consequences associated with early adolescent sexuality include unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and sexually-transmitted infections. Whilst international human rights instruments and national legislation recognise the importance of considering the adolescent child's evolving capacities, this becomes contentious when adolescents' access to contraceptive information and services and other sexual and reproductive health issues are involved. The article examines Nigeria's and South Africa's national legislation regarding adolescent girls' right to independently access and consent to confidential contraceptive information and services in accordance with the recognition of their evolving capacities provided for under international human rights law. We argue that a major impediment to adolescent girls' contraceptive use relates to the assumption that they are incapable of making rational decisions or of consenting to sexual and reproductive health care services without parental Involvement. The article concludes that allowing adolescent girls to consent independently, especially when accessing contraceptive information and services, is a necessary step in achieving increased adolescent contraceptive use, so affirming their evolving capacity in decision-making.

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