Children and WaterAid
Life without water and sanitation
In many countries children, particularly girls, are responsible for the collection of water. Girls as young as ten may take the main responsibility for drawing and carrying the family’s water.
Sa'a, 13, from Fikayi, Nigeria spends her day collecting water, finding firewood and grinding flour. She doesn't attend school.
Credit: WaterAid / Suzanne Porter
The size of water container can vary according to the age of the child, but each liter of water weighs one kilogram and may need to be carried for up to three or four miles.
Where there is no clean water source available, they have to collect water from contaminated sources such as muddy pools, which harbor harmful bacteria.
Where there are no toilet facilities people have to defecate in the open. Feces left lying around pose a severe health risk, particularly when they are close to the house where small children play.
The health risks are increased where children do not understand the importance of good hygiene and have not been taught to wash their hands after defecation and before eating.
Impact on health
Children are the most vulnerable to diarrheal diseases related to dirty water, poor sanitation and bad hygiene, such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery. They are more likely to catch them and less likely to survive. Regular bouts of diarrhea can lead to malnutrition, which makes children less able to fight other diseases.
Children who do not wash enough can suffer from skin diseases such as scabies, and eye infections such as trachoma, which can lead to blindness. Not washing hands increases the spread of potentially fatal respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia.
WaterAid’s water, sanitation and hygiene programs reduce children’s incidence of disease and cut the time children spend carrying heavy water pots,which can damage their heads, necks and spines. Shorter water collection times lessen the risk of mothers leaving young children alone or in the care of older children, which in turn reduces the risks of accidents and poor nutrition.
Impact on education
Water collection duties mean children are often late for school.
Credit: Brent Stirton
In communities without safe water and sanitation, many children are frequently absent from school due to water collection duties or water- and sanitation-related illness. Some do not enroll at all.
Once a community has safe water sources and sanitation facilities, children spend less time collecting water and are ill less often, and school attendance rises. The drop-out rates of teenage girls falls when private latrines are built. Parents have more time to earn money and face reduced healthcare costs, so some families are able to pay for school fees, equipment and uniforms they could not previously afford.
As children become more healthy, they can concentrate better and their performance at school improves. It is also easier to recruit good teachers to work in schools with good facilities, and the quality of teaching improves when teachers themselves are freed from arduous water collection duties.
Children and WaterAid
As children often suffer the most from a lack of safe water and sanitation, WaterAid works to ensure that our projects respond to their needs. Often new water sources are located in the center of the community to minimize the distance everybody needs to carry water. In many cases this means that children are able to collect water for their families before and after school.
Children on the steps of child-friendly toilets built by WaterAid's partner Gramalaya in Tamil Nadu, South India.
Credit: WaterAid / Libby Plumb
Facilities can also be tailored to make them appropriate for children. For example, in India we have developed open air,communal child-friendly toilets with narrow dropholes, sited in enclosures with brightly colored murals.
Children can help in some of the less strenuous tasks of well and latrine construction, such as collecting stones for building with. They are also taught to help maintain pumps or tapstands by using them correctly and keeping the surrounding area clean.
WaterAid promotes good hygiene, such as frequent handwashing, in a variety of ways. Many are geared towards children, involving fun activities such as puppet shows, plays and school clubs that teach pupils hygiene messages through games and songs. Children are quick to learn and can act as ambassadors of good hygiene within their families. Download our information sheet Children and water
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Premnega Primary School
Nita is a student at Premnega Primary School in Uttar Pradesh, India, where WaterAid and local partner organization Gramonati Sansthan have built latrines, and promoted good hygiene practices.
As a member of the water committee formed as part of the project, Nita is responsible for collecting drinking water from the school pump and making sure it is kept clean, as she described:
"When we collect water we have to clean the pot, cover it, and use a ladle to take water out. If we don’t do this young children put their hands in it and the water becomes dirty. We keep water covered so that dust from cleaning the house will not go inside. Hands can be very dirty so we should wash them, especially after using the latrine.
"In the water committee, we collect water, clean the pots, get water from the handpumps, and when the children ask for water, we get it for them. We make the children stand in a line to get clean drinking water. One person will pour the water and drink without letting their mouth touch the pot. In the morning we clean the pots – if we don’t do this, the dirt will come.
"In the water from the open well, dust and germs go inside and if we drink this water we will get ill. We tell our parents that we should keep the water covered and get a ladle. Some of our mothers had ladles before but the rest of us have purchased them since. We use the ladles because our hands are not clean and it will contaminate the water”
Photo: WaterAid / Marco Betti