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“Right to health in adolescence: the costs of failing are too high” – UN expert warns

GENEVA (15 June 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Dainius Pūras, today called on States “to remove all legal barriers to access health facilities, goods and services that interfere with the rights of adolescents to be heard and to be taken seriously and that, ultimately, limit their right to make autonomous decisions.” 

“Governments must strike a balance between adolescents’ emerging autonomy and their right to protection in particular when it comes to mental health, the rights to sexual and reproductive health, and substance use and drug control, given the specific challenges these issues pose,” the expert said after the presentation of his latest report* to the UN Human Rights Council.

“The foundations laid down during adolescence have profound implications for the social, economic and political development of society as a whole. Hence, the costs of failing adolescents are simply too high,” Mr. Pūras emphasised.

In his report, the human rights expert highlights that healthcare services should ensure respect for adolescents’ rights to privacy and confidentiality, address their different cultural needs and expectations, and comply with ethical standards. 

“This is particularly important when it comes to providing mental health services for adolescents,” he said. “Psychosocial interventions should be provided at the community level in a manner that is ethical and consistent with adolescents’ rights, and on the basis of available evidence, with a view to avoid institutionalization and the excessive use of psychotropic medications.”

Moreover, “States should adopt or integrate a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health policy for all adolescents into national strategies and programmes to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services,” the expert said. In that regard, he makes a number of recommendations in his report, among them: 

·    Abortion should not be criminalized, as this only leads to higher number of maternal deaths, and poor mental and physical health outcomes.
·    All adolescents should have access to confidential, adolescent-responsive and non-discriminatory sexual and reproductive health information, services and goods.
·    Age-appropriate, comprehensive and inclusive sexuality education, based on scientific evidence and human rights, should be part of the school curriculum.

The Special Rapporteur also called on States to seek alternatives to punitive or repressive drug control policies, including decriminalization and legal regulation and control, and foster the international debate on these issues with the right to health at the core. “All drug detention centres for adolescents should be closed, and the provision of prevention, harm reduction and dependence treatment services, without discrimination, should be ensured,” he said.

The expert noted that adolescents should be protected from violence and neglect, including in family settings, by the upholding of their right to confidential services and counselling without parental consent. He also called on States to support families to increase the abilities of parents to raise children and adolescents in a competent and confident manner, and reinforce skills to manage situations in a non-violent way. 

“Policies designed to protect families and family values should avoid measures that undermine the human rights of individual family members, including women, adolescents and younger children,” he said.

“Such approaches can be detrimental as they may, in the name of traditional values, condone violence, reinforce unequal power relations within family settings and, therefore, deprive adolescents from the opportunity to exercise their basic rights,” Mr. Pūras explained.

The Special Rapporteur urged States to meet their core obligation to recognize adolescents as rights holders by respecting their evolving capacities and their right to participate in the design, delivery and evaluation of policies and services that affect their health and well-being.

(*) Read the Special Rapporteur’s full report: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/32/32

The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to help States, and others, promote and protect the right to the highest attainable standard of health (right to health). Mr. Dainius Pūras (Lithuania) is a medical doctor with notable expertise on mental health, child health, and public health policies. He is a Professor and the Head of the Centre for Child psychiatry social paediatrics at Vilnius University, and teaches at the Faculty of Medicine, Institute of International relations and political science and Faculty of Philosophy of Vilnius University, Lithuania. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Health/Pages/SRRightHealthIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For further information and media requests, please contact:
Ms. Dolores Infante-Cañibano (+41 22 917 9768 / dinfante@ohchr.org)
Ms. Lucía de la Sierra (+41 22 917 9741 / ldelasierra@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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