Guidance on ethical considerations in planning and reviewing research studies on sexual and reproductive health in adolescents

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23/08/2018 12:00 am

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This document is intended to address commonly occurring situations and challenges that one faces in carrying out research with adolescents (people aged 10–19 years), the majority of whom are deemed not to have reached the recognized age of majority in their respective settings. To this end, adolescents aged 18 and 19 years are classified as adults in many settings and have the legal capacity to make autonomous decisions regarding their participation in research. In this document, the term “children” refers to people below the age of 18 years, and the term “minor adolescents” refers specifically to people aged 10–18 years.

This document is designed to inform people involved in sexual and reproductive health research with adolescents. This includes (but is not limited to) researchers, research ethics committee members, programme planners and sponsors.

Adolescents have unique health needs, experiences and challenges, and it is crucial to include them in research. However, research with adolescents is fraught with ethical and legal challenges, particularly in the context of sexual and reproductive health. As adolescence is a critical period of physical, psychological and social development, characterized by evolving decision-making capacity and independence, there are important protections, processes and considerations to be made when involving adolescents in research. This guidance document outlines 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.

Through the illustration of paradigmatic case scenarios, this guidance document is intended to highlight some of the most common challenges faced by people involved in adolescent research, and how such challenges may be managed. As with most guidance documents, the proposed
recommendations are not intended to be definitive or exhaustive. Notwithstanding the guidance offered in this document, people involved in research with adolescents should always exercise their discretion in resolving ethical and legal challenges, taking into account their personal knowledge of the issues at hand, the personal circumstances of the adolescent, and the prevailing cultural, political, legal and socioeconomic milieu of the study setting. Beyond all, people involved in research with adolescents should always strive to act in the adolescents’ best interests.

The participation of adolescents in sexual and reproductive health research is vital to better understand and address the needs of this unique group. In order to ensure the health and wellbeing of adolescents, 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 and well-being depend on it.

The report can be found here.

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