The ethical‐legal requirements for adolescent self‐consent to research in sub‐Saharan Africa: A scoping review

The ethical‐legal requirements for adolescent self‐consent to research in sub‐Saharan Africa: A scoping review
Busisiwe Nkosi, Brian Zanoni, Janet Seeley, Ann Strode
Bioethics, 14 October 2021
Open Access
Support for the enrolment of adolescents in research has been constrained by uncertainties in parental involvement, and the lack of clarity in the ethical and legal frameworks. We conducted a scoping review to examine articles that explored the opinion of scholars on the question of adolescent consent and conditions for parental waivers in research in sub‐Saharan Africa (SSA). Guided by the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta‐Analyses (PRISMA) tool, we searched electronic databases (PubMed, EMBASSE, EBSCOHOST) and also reviewed the references of articles identified for additional relevant literature. We included full text English articles focusing on adolescent consent and parental waivers in SSA that were published between 2004 and 2020. We excluded studies focusing on healthcare, theses, and reviews. We reviewed a total of 21 publications from South Africa (n = 12), Kenya (n = 4) and Botswana, Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe (n = 1 each). We identified four broad thematic issues: the current position regarding parental waivers and self‐consent; parental involvement in the consent process; the role of community approval or consent when adolescent self‐consent approaches were used; and complexities and ambiguities in legal requirements and ethical guidelines on adolescent consent. Our findings show inconsistencies and ambiguities in the existing legal and ethical frameworks within and across different countries, and underscore the need for consistent and clearer guidance on parental waivers and adolescent self‐consent. Harmonization of the legal and ethical frameworks taking into account varying contexts is critically important to ensure research on adolescents in SSA meets adolescents’ specific unmet needs.

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