Table 11: Harm Reduction and the Rights of Women and Children

Examples of Human Rights Violations

  • Women are denied access to harm reduction services on an equal basis with men.
  • Pregnant women who use drugs are forced to undergo abortions or sterilization, or are penalized for attempting to injure their child.
  • Children and young people are denied access to objective and accurate information about drugs and are barred from existing treatment and harm reduction services through age restrictions.
Human Rights Standards Treaty Body Interpretation
CRC 24(1): States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.

CRC 33: States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social and educational measures, to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as defined in the relevant international treaties, and to prevent the use of children in the illicit production and trafficking of such substances.

CRC General Comment 3 (39): Has identified that “[c]hildren who use drugs are at high risk [of HIV]” and that “injecting practices using unsterilized instruments further increase the risk of HIV transmission;” has also stated that governments “are obligated to ensure the implementation of programmes which aim to reduce the factors that expose children to the use of substances, as well as those that provide treatment and support to children who are abusing substances.”

CRC: Recommending to Ukraine to, “in partnership with non-governmental organizations, develop a comprehensive strategy for addressing the alarming situation of drug abuse among children and youth and undertake a broad range of evidence-based measures in line with the convention, and that it:

(a)develop specialized and youth-friendly drug-dependence treatment and harm-reduction services for children and young people, building on recent legislative progress on HIV/AIDS and the successful pilot programmes for most-at-risk adolescents initiated by UNICEF;
(b)ensure that criminal laws do not impede access to such services, including by amending laws that criminalize children for possession or use of drugs; (c)ensure that health and law enforcement personnel working with at-risk children are appropriately trained in HIV prevention and that abuses by law enforcement against at-risk children are investigated and punished; (d)intensify the enforcement of the prohibition of the sale of alcohol and tobacco to children and address root causes of substance use and abuse among children and youth.” CRC/C/UKR/CO/3-4 (CRC, 2011)

CRC: Expressed concern in Armenia at the criminalization of young drug users, and urged the government “to ensure that child drug abusers are not criminalized, but treated as victims in need of assistance towards recovery and reintegration.” (2004).

CRC: Has made country-specific recommendations on children who use drugs to Iceland (2012), Seychelles (2012), Costa Rica (2011), Bangladesh (2009), Sweden (2009), Bulgaria (2008), Colombia (2007), Honduras (2007), Malaysia (2007), Uruguay (2007), Liechtenstein (2006), Peru (2006), Senegal (2006), Tanzania (2006), Albania (2005), Bahamas (2005), Denmark (2005), Nigeria (2005), Mongolia (2005), Armenia (2004), El Salvador (2004), Netherlands (2004), Sao Tome and Principe (2004), Indonesia (2004), Brunei Darussalem (2003), Pakistan (2003), Panama (2003), Estonia (2003), Ukraine (2002), St. Vincent and the Grenadines (2002), Cote D’Ivoire (2001), Monaco (2001), India (2000), UK (2000), etc.

Other Interpretations

SR Violence Against Women: Recommending that the United States “Ensure that sentencing policies reflect an understanding of women’s levels of culpability and control with drug offenses” and “[r]eview laws that hold women responsible for their association with people involved in drug activities, and which punish them for activities of drug operations they may have little or no knowledge.” A/HRC/17/26/Add.5 (2011).

SR Violence Against Women: Expressed concern that the United States was “criminalizing a large segment of its population” through drug charges, increasingly women, and that many of these offenses “may be more appropriately handled by a community-based system of welfare and social support, as is presently the case in certain European countries” (1999).