Children and young people’s human rights don’t go away in times of crisis.
If you have a question you can’t find the answer to, you can contact us on the form at the bottom of the page. We’ll get back to you with help and support, and put answers to common questions here.
Your rights to education
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.
The Scottish Government has changed its guidance on when children and young people should wear face coverings— such as face masks.
You can find the new guidance here. It says that from 2nd November:
- In secondary schools, you should wear a face covering when moving around in areas where it’s hard to physically distance. This might include corridors, and some communal areas.
- Everyone who’s 5 or over and isn’t exempt should wear a face covering on school transport, like they already have to on public transport.
- If you are in S4 to S6 you should also wear a mask in classes and other areas, unless you are eating or drinking.
- For younger children, if you’re in a classroom – or somewhere else where you’re not moving around – you don’t need to wear a face covering. But if you still want to, you can.
If you can’t wear a face covering for health reasons or because of a disability, you don’t have to. For example, you may be on the autistic spectrum and find the sensation of wearing a covering very distressing.
What is a face covering?
A face covering is a form of material which covers the mouth or nose. It can be cloth or textile, and can be reusable or disposable.
- Face masks aren’t the only form of face covering: scarves, buffs and bandanas all also count as well.
- You don’t have to wear a medical grade mask to school.
- You can get more information about face coverings on the Scottish Government’s website.
What should I do if I don’t feel able to wear a face covering?
If you don’t feel able to wear a face covering, speak to your teachers or parent or carer. Your schools should respond well to this and provide you with support. If they don’t, you can show them this FAQ.
Your school should make sure that everyone understands that some young people may not be able to wear face coverings, and that you have a right to privacy about the reasons you aren’t able to wear one. Your school has a responsibility to make sure there is no bullying or stigma about not wearing a mask.
Why has this advice been introduced?
The Scottish Government has said that children and young people wearing face coverings in school will reduce the risk of Covid-19 being spread from person to person.
Reducing the spread helps protect the right to life of children and young people, their families, their teachers and everyone else in society.
The Government has said that face coverings may also decrease the risk that schools have to be closed due to outbreaks amongst the staff or pupils.
Wearing face coverings in some parts of secondary schools and on transport is only one part of reducing the spread of coronavirus at school:
- Physical distancing is still important,
- It’s important your school is laid out in a way that minimises spread and is well-ventilated,
- It’s important school timetables are changed to reduce crowding.
What do we think about this new advice?
Scottish Government should have consulted you about it
We think the Scottish Government should have consulted with children and young people before it issued this new guidance.
As this is something that will affect children and young people, it’s important that you have a say.
Children and young people have the right to participate in all decisions which affect them, and this is something we’ve been asking Scottish Government to do throughout the pandemic.
Scottish Government should explain why it exists
Children and young people have done everything that’s been asked of them throughout this pandemic, but you need to understand the reasons why you’re now being asked to do more.
So it’s really important that the Scottish Government is clear why they have made these decisions.
They need to explain why they’re proportionate, necessary, lawful and time limited – and guided by scientific advice.
Scottish Government needs to set out their explanation and the evidence for it in a Children’s Rights Impact Assessment. This should also lay out the steps they’ll take to lessen the decision’s impact on your rights
These decisions must be kept under review.
What should schools do now this new advice is in place?
Schools should work with children and young people on how they will implement the changes and on how they’ll use face coverings..
They should provide free face coverings so all children and young people are able to wear them.
In line with new World Health Organisation guidelines, they should also provide the hygiene facilities you need to use face coverings effectively – like places to wash your hands and hand sanitiser when you enter or leave a classroom.
What should schools do when children don’t wear face coverings?
Some children and young people might be worried or might not be able to wear a face covering. There are lots of reasons for this, including:
- having asthma,
- relying on lip reading,
- having disability that means you are distressed at having your mouth and nose covered.
There must be no sanctions or punishments – such as detentions – for children and young people who do not wear a face covering. Schools should make sure that all teachers and students understand that some children will not be wearing face masks.
Schools should also be aware that some children and young people may be distressed by others wearing face masks, and make sure they are supported and reassured.
Your rights at home
Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is always open, and that’s still true during the Coronavirus pandemic. They can offer you support and information if you don’t feel safe.
You can visit the Helpline’s website to chat to someone online or to email, or you can call them on 0800 027 1234.
And in an emergency you can still dial 999 for the Police, Ambulance or Fire Service.
Your right to family contact
Being able to keep in touch with your parents is important for all children and young people. Having a parent in prison has a major impact on your human rights even in less unusual times. We’re calling for alternative ways to contact your parent to be found, so that the prison service respects your human rights.
Children have told us they’re worried that people aren’t getting rid of facemasks properly, and that people are forgetting about the environment because we’re so busy with Covid-19.
They’ve been unhappy to see so many disposable masks on the ground as litter. And they think people should use reusable face masks where they can, or other types of reusable face coverings.
Disposable masks can often only be used once. They’ve been in the news due to the amount of plastic waste they’ve generated.
Taking children seriously
Children often tell us they’re concerned about the environment, and that it’s not something adults think about enough. As Article 12 of the UNCRC says, this is an opinion which we should listen to and take seriously.
So we’ve agreed to highlight that this is something that matters a lot to them.
What does the Scottish Government say about getting rid of face masks?
- how to take proper care of reusable face masks, and
- how to get rid of face masks which can’t be used again.
As it says, disposable face coverings and gloves can’t be recycled, so will be more damaging to the environment than reusable alternatives. But if you do use them, you should still make sure to put them in a bin.