Understanding Children’s Right to Water

Right to water

Understanding children’s right to water

Water is essential to survival and health of all human beings. The right to water is a fundamental human right and a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights.

Access to water: a vital right for all children

The right to water is a vital right because water plays such an essential role in the everyday lives and environment of all people, adults and children alike. The right to water includes the right to quality water in sufficient quantity and the right to adequate means of sanitation to prevent diseases and maintain the quality of water resources.

An essential resource for life and for survival

Water is an essential daily resource for all people.

It is used for direct consumption, for cooking, and for irrigating fields.

There are four important principles to guarantee survival and health for all:

  • Water must be available: this means in sufficient quantity for all personal and domestic uses. The United Nations estimate that each person needs 20-50 litres of drinking water per day.
  • Water must be accessible: water, facilities and adequate services must be accessible within or near homes. Water, facilities and services must be available at a cost that is affordable for all.
  • Water must be of high quality: water must be clean, drinkable, and free from all health risks.
  • Water must be stable and reliable: clean water must be available and accessible under all circumstances (drought, flooding that pollutes water, etc.).


An essential resource for dignified living

Water also plays a major role in maintaining people’s dignity. It allows children to benefit from the hygiene that is needed to remain in good health but also to ensure that their body and they as a person are respected.

Many people around the world do not have access to sufficient water to wash themselves and enjoy a dignified life.

In addition, an inadequate sanitation system results not only in the spread of diseases and infections but also deprives people of part of their human dignity. The absence of simple toilets obliges children to relieve themselves in the open air, exposing them to the dirtiness of an environment that has already been soiled by urine and faeces from hundreds if not thousands of other people.


The right to water also helps to achieve the right to health and to education

Water helps to protect children’s health and ensure their development

Water is essential in children’s development process. It is thanks to food and water that a child can grow up healthy.

Proportionately, nursing infants and young children have much higher water requirements than adults.

Dehydration – an excessive lack of water – in children can cause irreversible harm to their physical and mental development.

Water helps to contribute to children’s right to education

Having clean water and adequate sanitation facilities in educational establishments plays a significant role in making the right to education a reality.

A child’s learning can be significantly impeded if the school they attend does not have drinking water and clean toilets. Children who drink dirty water and who use dirty and broken sanitation facilities are at great risk of falling ill and, as a result, leaving school.

In addition, in developing countries, many girls do not attend school because of the lack of appropriate female-only toilets.

Better hygiene in schools has an impact on a major scale: as a result of better hygiene, children have less risk of becoming ill. This means that they (and particularly girls) will attend school more, which leads to greater social development and, ultimately, increased economic development in the country.

Water quality: a challenge for us all

When we talk about poor water quality and the resulting diseases, we most often think of so-called “developing” countries in which deaths occur after drinking untreated water.

However, while tap water is in general free from pathogens, there are nonetheless multiple contamination risks. Agricultural run-off and infiltration represent the biggest sources of pollution [1]. The fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides used in industrial agriculture can contaminate underground water resources and watercourses. Animal excrement can contain pathogens and presents an additional contamination risk. Furthermore, contamination of water with wastewater is extremely frequent. According to the United Nations, two million tonnes of wastewater ultimately enter water resources [1, 2]. In the global north, the risk of water contamination comes primarily from combined networks, which mix wastewater and rainwater. During heavy storms, which are becoming more and more frequent, the water overflows and infiltrates the soil, where it can contaminate both subterranean and surface water. This is coupled with the heavy metals that can be released by water pipes that are poorly maintained and in poor condition.

In recent years, media attention has been focused increasingly on micropollutants. These are polluting substances of mineral, biological, organic or synthetic origin that are present in the environment in very low concentrations [3]. This new category of pollutants also includes medications, which find their way into wastewater and can potentially have harmful impacts on people and the environment [1]. In addition, little is yet known about the cocktail effect of these substances. This means that micropollutants are the major new challenge for water protection services, most notably those in Switzerland [4], where water treatment plants are undergoing major improvements in order to be able to remove the greatest possible volume of these pollutants.

These risks are resulting in the rise of new threats in Europe and North America and further worsen water quality in emerging countries. Although public awareness has recently increased, we still do not understand the true extent of the danger that these substances can present to our health. Faced with this challenge, bottled water is not any safer than tap water.

In summary, although some regions seem to be less vulnerable than others, protecting and managing water must be top priorities to ensure our quality of life, and in particular children’s quality of life.

Find out More!


  1. Consumer Notice, https://www.consumernotice.org/environmental/water-contamination/
  2. United Nations, https://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/quality.shtml
  3. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_persistent_pharmaceutical_pollutant
  4. Swiss Federal Office for the Environment [in French], https://www.bafu.admin.ch/bafu/fr/home/themes/eaux/dossiers/micropolluants.html

Last reviewed on 29 August 2019