Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

New tools for strengthening national legal and policy frameworks to improve child and adolescent health

24 November 2008

A young boy

WHO's Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development (CAH) firmly supports the notion that survival, optimal health and development, and access to good basic health care and services are not just basic needs, but fundamental human rights of all children and adolescents. It is therefore committed to ensuring that its work is systematically informed and guided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and other relevant international human rights instruments.

One important aspect of the Department's work in the field of human rights is strengthening countries' legal and policy frameworks to support effective and sustained implementation of programmes, and more equitable access to services.

Despite many governments' efforts to improve accessibility, utilization and quality of health services for children and adolescents, legal, policy and practice barriers continue to exist both within and outside the health sector that constrain or impede much needed progress. Systematic use of the CRC provides a supportive legal impetus for improving child and adolescent health programmes, and introduces an element of government accountability to international commitments into related planning processes.

In late 2007, CAH teamed up with the Department of Reproductive Health and Research, and the Program on International Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, to develop a series of tools for strengthening countries' legal and policy frameworks to support child and adolescent health programmes and services.

The first tool aims to help countries apply a human rights framework to identify and address legal, regulatory and policy barriers to improving adolescents' access to sexual and reproductive health services. It enables a systematic application of human rights principles -- including non-discrimination, participation and accountability -- to policies and programming. It also enables a comprehensive examination of laws, regulations and policies to ensure they are supportive of, rather than a barrier to, adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health, and are compliant with a government’s international and national human rights obligations.

Field tests of the tool for assessment of adolescent sexual and reproductive health law and policy are currently under way in Sri Lanka and Tajikistan, with further application planned in the Region of the Americas in early 2009.

The second tool is intended to guide governments in undertaking a rights-based situation analysis of child survival in their country by:

  • applying a CRC framework to collect data on key areas of the legal and policy environment that significantly impact child health/survival programmes, services, and outcomes;
  • combining this information with existing data on the national child health/survival programme;
  • analysing combined data to identify strategies for strengthening national programmes and promoting child rights; and
  • synthesizing and integrating findings into the child health strategic planning process.

The first half of 2009 will see the first field test of the child rights situation analysis for child survival. CAH is currently working with partners to identify a suitable test site for the project. The urgent need for such tools was re-iterated during a recent expert consultation and conference in New York on legislative reform to achieve human rights, organized by UNICEF, and supported by the Inter-Parliamenty Union (IPU) and the European Union. The consultation and conference, in which CAH and the Pan-American Health Organization participated and presented the aforementioned tools, provided a unique opportunity for securing wide support for this work on legislative and policy reform, and further discussions to strengthen collaboration in this area are planned with UN partners and the IPU.