Know your rights! Consenting to health services

What is consent?

It means to agree for something to happen, such as getting medical treatment. You must be free to consent and never feel forced to do something, not matter what your age. Consent can be written or verbal (spoken).

What is informed consent?

This means you need to be told the details about the particular tests or treatments before you agree to them. You must be given information and understand the method and risks of the medical test or treatment that you are giving consent to.

How old do you have to be to give consent for health services?

Medical treatments

Including HIV testing but excluding medical male circumcision

You may give informed consent to a medical treatment if you are:

  • 12 years or older; or
  • under 12 and have “sufficient maturity”. That means you need to clearly understand the advantages, risks and consequences of the medical treatment.

If you cannot give informed consent, it must be provided by:

  • your parent or caregiver;
  • the child protection organisation where you may live; and
  • in emergencies: the superintendent or the person in charge of a hospital


Contraceptives may be given to a child on request from the child and without the consent of a parent or caregiver if:

  • the child is 12 years or older; and
  • a medical examination is carried out on the child to decide if the contraceptive is medically safe for the child

A mentally disabled person will only get surgery after a board of healthcare professionals have agreed that it can be done.

Medical male circumcision (MMC)

A boy may give informed consent to MMC if he is:

16-years-old without parental consent.

Termination of Pregnancy or Abortion

It is legal is South Africa and can be consented to at any age. The law states that: “if you are old enough to get pregnant, you are old enough to have an abortion”.

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Anonymous 2 April 2016 14:11

Some clinics don't perform abortions, why??

B-Wise Expert Expert 11 April 2016 12:31

Free termination of pregnancy is available at many government hospitals or clinic during the first three months of pregnancy. However, some facilities are too small to perform termination of pregnancy safely. If you visit a family planning clinic, they should be able to give you the information you need about which hospital or clinic you can go to in your area.