Dutch State and water companies in court: stop disconnecting children from water

Defence for Children and the Dutch section of the International Commission of Jurists (NJCM) are taking the Dutch State and public water companies Dunea and PWN to court. In the Netherlands, families with children are cut off from the water supply if the parents have not paid the water bill. This is in violation of children’s rights and human rights as laid down in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights. Children cannot do anything about the fact that their parents cannot pay the bill. Yet, the Dutch government and public water companies, such as Dunea and PWN, refuse to stop disconnecting children from the water supply. Mariëlle Bahlmann, legal advisor at Defence for Children: “We find this incomprehensible. Water is indispensable for a child’s life and health. We ask the judge to prohibit disconnecting children from the water supply”.

Harmful consequences

Water is a basic need that is essential for children to be able to live and develop healthily. This is also confirmed by the World Health Organization, which states that between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day are needed to meet basic needs and prevent very serious health issues. Restricted access to water for consumption and hygiene, and therefore also complete disconnection of water, can result in various diseases, including diarrhoea and dehydration, as well as infectious diseases. It has also become painfully clear during the coronavirus outbreak that clean water and hygiene measures are vital. In addition, lack of water has an impact on children’s (mental) development through, for example, school drop-out due to illness or shame because the child cannot wash itself.

Responsibility

Bahlmann is concerned about water closures in children and what this means for children’s health and development. “Children need extra protection because of their vulnerability. Governments should therefore put the best interests of the child first when making and implementing policies”. The right of children to water is such an important right that governments must ensure that every child has access to clean drinking water, even if parents cannot pay the bill. If children are cut off from the water supply anyway, this constitutes unacceptable discrimination according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Disconnection policy and water bag

The amended Small-scale Consumer Disconnection Policy Regulation [Regeling afsluitbeleid voor kleinverbuikers van drinkwater] came into force in 2018. Under this scheme, households may be disconnected from the water. Only vulnerable consumers for whom disconnection from water poses serious health risks will be excluded. Children are not considered vulnerable consumers in the regulation. Since this regulation has been in force, households that are disconnected from the water will receive a water bag containing 12 litres of water per person for the first four days, if they so request. This means that a child who is disconnected from the water has access to 3 litres of water per day and only for the first four days. This is well below 50 to 100 litres of water that, according to the World Health Organization, every person needs per day.

Solution

That access to sufficient clean drinking water is a children’s right does not necessarily mean that water should be freely available. Payment and delivery of water can be split. A possible solution would therefore be to keep the water supply available in case children are involved, while the water company’s claim on the parents remains. After all, this already happens for vulnerable consumers with serious health risks that would otherwise be cut off.

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