Article 24 of the UNCRC says that healthcare for children and young people should be as good as possible, and also goes further than this by saying children and young people have the right to be both physically and mentally fulfilled.
Among other things, this implies that children and young people:
- should have good enough nourishment from their food
- should be able to live in a safe and healthy environment
- shouldn’t be in danger at work.
Article 24 also says that children and young people have a right to information about their health. They should have a say in how they get this and be able to say what they like and dislike about the information they get.
Access to water is a human right. It’s essential to a child’s right to health, and to fully realising their right to education.
In 2019 the Children’s Future Food Inquiry report identified access to free drinking water in schools as a key issue which disproportionately impacts children experiencing poverty and food insecurity.
Education authorities in Scotland are required to provide drinking water to children in schools. This duty is set out in Regulation 7 of The Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2020.
This is still the law during the coronavirus pandemic.
No emergency law or policy has changed this.
No guidance has been issued at a national level which would prevent water being provided to children in school for health reasons.
It is important that access to drinking water is provided safely and education authorities should support schools to do this.
If you’re not being allowed access to fresh water at your school – or if you know of a child or young person who’s being denied it – you should contact the head teacher in the first instance and draw their attention to the regulations and to this statement.
If necessary you can ask the head teacher to seek advice from the education authority, who should support them to ensure that drinking water can be provided within the school in a way that protects the rights to health of children and staff.
The Commissioner’s office has written to the Scottish Government asking them to provide clarity to schools on this matter.
Article 24 of the UNCRC says that people should know about the health services they have access to. They should get information about physical and mental health, and they should know about the services they can use if they have difficulties with either.
Young people have the right to get information about their health in private, without a parent or guardian’s knowledge. While as a child it might have been in their best interests for a parent or guardian to make decisions about their health, young people should be able to choose which services they need.
The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland gives advice about rights in relation to mental health care and treatment.
NHS Choices – Young People and Mental Health offers advice and information about a variety of mental health problems, as well as links to useful resources.
Breathing Space is a helpline staffed by trained advisors. They will listen and provide support and advice (tel. 0800 83 85 87).
More in the Rights questions and answers section
Relevant General Comments
General Comments that are relevant to Article 24 are:
- General Comment 3, on HIV/AIDS and children’s rights,
- General Comment 4, on adolescent health and development in the context of the UNCRC,
- General Comment 9, on the rights of children with disabilities,
- General Comment 15, on the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child facilitates Days of General Discussion where experts from around the world can discuss a child rights issue in detail. The reports of their discussions are a helpful tool to understand how the UNCRC should be interpreted.
Some Days of General Discussion relevant to Article 24 are: