SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: A FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHT
Changing young people’s lives through progressive legislation
The winds of change are blowing strong in East and Southern Africa! Governments are assuming their obligations and duties under international, continental and regional commitments to respect, protect and fulfil the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents and young people. A review of legal reforms, specifically around harmonizing laws and policies that affect the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of adolescents and young people, shows tremendous progress across the region and this is truly commendable.
The UNFPA youth flagship programme – Safeguard Young People (SYP), in collaboration with SADC, the SADC Parliamentary Forum and other partners, has been a powerful driver of this advancement. Together, with the leadership of governments, parliaments and policymakers, and in collaboration with young leaders, we have undertaken six years of sustained advocacy.
A quick round-up of positive change shows that Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have used the SADC Model Law on child marriage to take critical steps towards eradicating this harmful practice and protecting adolescent girls. All four countries have domesticated the SADC Model Law on child marriage, while Mozambique used the Model Law in its new bill banning child marriage and setting the minimum age for marriage at 18.
In Botswana, smart advocacy by young activists succeeded in advocating for the inclusion of the closein-age provision (commonly known as the Romeo and Juliet law) when the age of sexual consent went from 16 to 18 years, thus reducing the risk of criminalization of young people engaging in consensual sexual activity – a factor that limits their right to access services and information on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.
Malawi, South Africa and Uganda have set the minimum age of consent to HIV testing and counselling at 12 years without parental consent. This provision ensures that all adolescents are aware of their HIV status, enabling them to access treatment and care services.