Age of consent: A case for harmonizing laws and policies to advance, promote and protect adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health rights

Renata Tallarico, Karabo Ozah, Kingsley S Orievulu

Abstract

The article assesses the legal and policy frameworks that have an impact on adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health rights (ASRHR) in East and Southern Africa (ESA), confirming the interconnectedness of the ages of consent to sexual activity, marriage, and services and its influence on adolescents’ human rights. It reviews international, continental and national legal instruments used to identify relevant provisions on ASRHR in the ESA region. The region demonstrates substantial disparities between realities of sexual debut among adolescents, national (statutory and customary) laws and policies on ages of consent to sex, marriage and medical services, and international standards around these SRHR issues. These disparities constitute negative consequences: criminalising adolescents, entrenching child marriage, and excluding adolescents from accessing medical services required to secure and promote ASRHR. While some ESA countries lack clear laws and policies on the three issues, cases of internal contradictions and disharmony with international standards abound. This impacts on the full realization of sexual and reproductive health rights of adolescents and young people in the region. (Afr J Reprod Health 2021; 25[2]: 94-102).

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