This statement was submitted at the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council Annual Discussion on the Rights of the Child on behalf of ARROW and Safe Abortion Advocacy Initiative – Global South Engagement (SAIGE). Watch the video statement here.
Approximately 12 million girls aged 15–19 years and at least 777,000 girls under 15 years old give birth each year in developing regions. Pregnancies among adolescents have major health consequences. Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15–19 years old. Adolescent mothers face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and systemic infections. Childbearing also greatly reduces the likelihood of a girl advancing her education, limits her opportunities for training and employment, and often confines her to the domestic sphere. Furthermore, studies have shown that girls who become pregnant before the age of 18 years are more likely to experience violence within a marriage or partnership.
Additionally, around 3.9 million unsafe abortions among girls aged 15–19 years occur each year, contributing to maternal mortality, morbidity, and lasting health problems. Adolescent girls face unique vulnerabilities when accessing abortion services. They are denied autonomy in decision making about their bodies due to imbalance in power relations based on their age and gender. Additionally, in most Asian societies, sex before marriage is not considered socially acceptable, thus, in case of unintended pregnancy, an unmarried young woman faces challenges in accessing safe abortion services due to stigma and shame associated with premarital sex and abortion.
It is, therefore, important to recognise the power dynamics and intersectionality of issues impacting young women’s access to safe abortion services in policy formulation and implementation. There should be recognition and respect for young women and girls’ bodily autonomy and choice. We demand a rights-based approach to the provision of abortion services for all young women and girls that recognises the principle of evolving capacities and their ability to make autonomous decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Protection should not be interpreted as denial of services or information but, rather, it should be referred to as the provision of youth-friendly SRHR information, services and policies that foster an accessible, supportive and stigma-free environment.