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Policies & Guidelines

It is important to know the current and relevant policies and guidelines in South Africa as they relate to sexual and reproductive health. In this way, you may be empowered to make the right choices about your sexual and reproductive health and what is right for you and your partner free of misinformation and discrimination.

The Bill of Rights, part of the Constitution, protects the reproductive health and rights of all peoples. 

Section 12(2) states that “Everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right–

(a) to make decisions concerning reproduction;

(b) to security in and control over their body; and

(c) not to be subjected to medical or scientific experiments without their informed consent.”

Section 27(1)(a) states that “Everyone has the right to have access to health care services, including reproductive health care.”

The Bill of Rights also has provisions to express all sexual expressions and orientations. Section 9(3) states that “The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.”

The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act No.92 of 1996 gives all women the right to a free abortion (termination of pregnancy) at a government hospital or clinic during the first 3 months of pregnancy. A woman is entitled to the termination of her pregnancy upon request during the first 12 weeks of her gestation period. Between 13 weeks and up to 20 weeks, a woman is entitled to an abortion if her own physical or mental health is at risk, the baby will have severe mental or physical handicaps, she is a victim of incest and/or rape, or if she is of the personal opinion that her economic or social situation is sufficient reason for the termination of the pregnancy. After 20 weeks, abortion will only be performed if continuing the pregnancy is a danger to a woman and/or the fetus’s life.

Women of all ages have the right to an abortion and should never be denied the service because of their age. If you are under 18, it is advisable to be accompanied by a trusted adult (parent, aunt, teacher, etc.), although this is not required.

To have a free abortion, the request must be made at a primary healthcare clinic where the pregnancy will be confirmed, counselling provided, an appointment made, and a referral letter is given to a facility where the procedure can be performed.

Not all health workers are willing to be involved in this service, and their rights are protected by the Constitution. However, they are obligated by law to inform the client of her rights and must refer her to health worker or facility where she can get the service.

If it is your first time to a health facility, you will be asked to complete a form and a folder will be opened. When you go to the facility, make sure to bring the following:

  • Your official ID document
  • Your referral letter (if relevant)
  • List of a
  • Your clinic/hospital card if you have previously registered at the facility

You must sign an informed consent form giving permission for the abortion to be done. Only the woman’s consent is ever needed to get an abortion.

As stated in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007, the age of consent in South Africa is 16 years old. The age of consent is the minimum age at which an individual is considered legally old enough to participate in sexual activity. There is a general presumption that children under the age of 12 years cannot consent in any case.

Statutory rape is defined as “an act of sexual penetration with a child who is 12 years of age or older but under the age of 16 years.” Statutory sexual assault is defined as “an act of sexual violation with a child who is 12 years of age or older but under 16 years.” The law has a close-in-age exception, however, so sexual acts between two children where both are between 12 and 16, or where one is under 16 and the other is less than two years older, are not criminal.

Regardless of age, rape is defined as any time when a person unlawfully and intentionally commits an act of sexual penetration against another person without their consent.