Sexual and reproductive health

Addressing the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents


Worldwide, one in five women has a child by the age of 18

A 16 year old pregnant girl, Costa Rica
A 16 year old pregnant girl, Costa Rica.
  • In 1990, the Convention on the Rights of the Child declared that children (0-18 years) had the right to information and services to survive, and to grow and develop to their full potential.
  • In 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development’s Programme of Action called for the Sexual and Reproductive Health of Adolescents (10-19 years) and young people (10-24 years) to be met.

There is growing recognition of the importance of addressing the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents.

  • The Millennium Development Goals report published by United Nations in 2011 reiterated the point that: "Reaching adolescents is critical to improving maternal health & achieving other Millennium Development Goals"
  • In April 2012, the 45th session of the Commission on Population and Development, on the theme Adolescents and Youth, adopted a landmark resolution urging government and development partners to strengthen health systems and ensure that they prioritize universal access to sexual and reproductive information and health-care services.
  • At the recently concluded 65th session of the World Health Assembly, representatives from 30 countries noted in their contributions to the discussions on “Early marriages, adolescent and young pregnancies” that early marriage is illegal in most places where it occurs, that it is a violation of the rights of girls, and that it has detrimental health and social consequences on adolescent girls and their families and communities.
  • These calls are in line with the WHO Global Reproductive Health Strategy to accelerate progress towards the attainment of international development goals.

Based on an assessment of what needs to be done at the global, regional and national levels to meet the needs and fulfill the rights of adolescents, and on the contributions that other international agencies active in this area are making, the Department of Reproductive Health and Research (RHR) has identified three areas of work where the needs are important and where the Department’s strengths can be put to the best possible use.

Areas of work

  • Strengthening epidemiology and programme monitoring data to provide the basis for policy formulation and programme design
  • Building the evidence base to guide policy formulation and programme design
  • Supporting countries to translate available knowledge into practice in strengthening policy formulation, and programme implementation and monitoring

The Department works with relevant departments in WHO and with partners both within and outside the United Nations system.

Building evidence in three areas

  • Understand the factors that shape psychosocial development as children make the transition into early adolescence, and identify effective and feasible ways of influencing this
  • Understand and overcome national, provincial and district, and local level barriers to the provision of sexual and reproductive health education and health services to adolescents.
  • Understand the determinants of early pregnancy and identify effective and feasible legal, social and economic measures of preventing it.