A second chance in the second decade

Policies to support adolescents’ health


A range of policies is needed

For adolescents it is crucial that policies and laws both promote their health and protect their rights to non-discrimination, privacy and autonomy and to participate in decisions that affect them. Like most policies concerning the rights of individuals, the policies that affect the health of adolescents play out at various levels. At the highest level are international conventions. Many countries have signed or ratified conventions that recognize the right of adolescents to the highest attainable standard of health.

At the national level policies are embodied in laws and regulations. While international conventions recognize the importance of adolescent health, this is not always adequately addressed in national policy and laws. Among other roles, laws can articulate how the state will protect adolescents’ rights to health, both through the provision of health services and by influencing the determinants of health.

Given the importance of the second decade to lifelong health and well-being, policies are needed that lay out how government will ensure social protection for adolescents. This protection exists in some countries in the form of government responsibilities for the maintenance of children.1 This may be particularly challenging, however, in low and middle income countries, where most adolescents live, and for adolescents living in precarious circumstances.

Countries with statutory family allowance programmes

Laws and regulations are normally a consequence of policy-making.2 They are important because they make a clear statement about what needs to be done and by whom to improve and maintain adolescents’ health. They stipulate responsibilities for policy implementation, processes to be followed, means of enforcement and procedures for redress. New laws and regulations may be needed to address emerging problems, for example enabling injecting drug users to access prevention and treatment interventions including appropriate harm reduction services.

Policies and laws are needed that facilitate adolescents’ access to accurate health information and a range of services and opportunities that contribute to their health and development. Appropriate policies are also essential to enable adolescents to live, learn and, when appropriate, earn in safe and supportive environments free from violence, exploitation, discrimination and abuse. Policy measures that address specific health issues and their determinants are also crucial to a comprehensive policy basis for adolescent health.


I know government guidance is to eat 5 fresh fruit and vegetables per day and up to 2000 calories per day. I also understand that it is unhealthy and illegal to use cigarettes, drugs or alcohol.

male, 12-14, United Kingdom

Improvement of the environmental situation in the country and the world. The tightening of laws on tobacco smoking and alcohol. As well as high quality medical service at any time.

female, 15-17, Republic of Moldova

A law that criminalizes abortion, and if I have the need to end a pregnancy I could go to jail.

female, 15-17, Mexico

These laws should be enforced with greater strength. Although I have chosen to abstain from such, I have friends my age and younger that are able to purchase alcohol, cigarettes and drugs and such on a regular basis.

female, 15-17, Switzerland

’Many laws have rules about nutritional content and the fabrication of food in general, forbidding products that are dangerous to our health. Laws about not selling alcohol to minors and not smoking in public also help to preserve our health.

male, 15-17, France