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.
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.
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
Two General Comments that are relevant to Article 23 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.
Days of General Discussion
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: