Sexual and reproductive health

Ethical considerations for research on adolescent sexual and reproductive health

Group of teenagers sitting on stairs outdoor.
CC by Ayertosco

12 August 2018 ¦ International Youth Day is an opportunity to celebrate young people, as well as to raise awareness of the challenges and problems young people around the world face. This year, the theme for International Youth Day is #SafeSpaces4Youth. Assuring safe and secure physical spaces for young people is a key priority. Equally as important is assuring them safe and secure environments for them to meaningfully participate in research and programmes that affect them. Researchers, among others, have an obligation to cultivate safe environments for young people. Within the research context, this begins first and foremost with ethical practice.

Providing practical guidance to people involved in sexual and reproductive health research with adolescents

The participation of adolescents in health research, however, poses legal and ethical challenges. A new document, published today, provides practical guidance on just this for individuals and organisations involved in research on sexual and reproductive health research with young people. It examines:

  • the terminologies used to describe different groups of adolescents,
  • the notions of autonomy, consent and assent,
  • the implication of best interests to reconcile ethical and legal obligations, and
  • some best practices surrounding information-sharing in the context of sexual and reproductive health research with adolescents.


The guidance was informed by a culturally and geographically diverse panel of experts with different professional backgrounds.

The guidance document includes case scenarios, intended to highlight some of the most common challenges faced by individuals and organizations involved in adolescent research, and how such challenges may be managed. For example, whether a researcher should apply for a waiver of parental consent for special groups of young people, such as children and adolescents living on the street; or, what the ethical and legal implications are when conducting research among young men who have sex with men in contexts where homosexuality is heavily stigmatized; or, what a research organization working with young people should consider when developing a policy on information-sharing.

In order to ensure the health and well- being of young people, and their ability to thrive, high-quality research in adolescent sexual and reproductive health is essential to fill gaps in data and inform successful programmes and policies. This guidance document aims to inform the appropriate involvement and protection of adolescents in research, because ultimately adolescent health, well-being and safety depend on it.

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