Legal Frameworks

Adolescent girls worldwide face a wide range of violations to their SRHR. These human rights violations often involve tremendous physical and psychological pain and arguably rise to a level of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (CIDT), but historically they have not been recognised as such.

Health was first articulated as a human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, wherein it is stated that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and the right to security in the event of sickness. Motherhood and childhood are also declared as entitled to special care and assistance. A more detailed articulation of this right is set forth in Article 12 of the Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Under the Article the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health is recognized.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) specifically addresses aspects of women's right to health. It requires the provision of equal access to educational information to help ensure the health and well-being of families, including information and advice on family planning; prohibits discrimination in the field of health care; ensures equal access to health care services including family planning; ensures provision of appropriate services in connection with pregnancy; and that women in rural areas have access to adequate health care facilities, including information counselling and family planning services.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child also recognises the right of children to the highest attainable standard of health and access to health facilities, and the right to protection from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse. Other health related human rights fall within the scope of certain fundamental freedoms protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These include the right to life, the right to liberty and security of the person, and the right to privacy.

The following are some of the international treaties that address SRHR:

  • 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights33: Recognises the role of the states in the defence of human rights and the right to health
  • 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights34: Article 12 recognises the right to control one’s own body
  • 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights35
  • 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women36: Among other issues, establishes a framework against sexual violence
  • 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development37: Recognises the role of the states and that of women in development
  • 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child38
  • 1994 Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo (+5, +10, +15): Marks a very significant shift in thinking and policy development from a population perspective to a rights-based approach to reproductive health. The PoA defines and recognises comprehensive definitions of reproductive health, sexual health and advances the idea of sexual and reproductive rights
  • 1995 Platform for Action of the World Conference on Women in Beijing (+5,+10+15): Consolidates and expands the commitment to a rights-based approach to SRH made at ICPD the previous year. Further annunciates women’s rights to their own bodies, sexuality and reproduction
  • 2000 Millennium Declaration: Recognises gender equality, maternal health and the fight against HIV/AIDS as axes of sustainable human development. Does not prioritise SRHR as a development issue
  • 2001 Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS: Describes commitments regarding the fight against HIV/AIDS and links them to inequalities and rights
  • 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities39
  • 2006 Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity40: Describes the principles applicable to policies on sexual orientation
  • 2007 MDG Target 5B (universal access to reproductive health): Targets and indicators for SRHR made a late entry to the MDG framework upon the realisation that reproductive health has great influence on other MDGs