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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Water, sanitation and hygiene in schools

© UNICEF/HQ06-0342/Giacomo Pirozzi
A girl leaves a latrine at a ‘child-friendly’ girls’ school near Quetta, Pakistan.

Factors related to water, sanitation and hygiene affect children’s right to education in many ways. In an atmosphere of poor health, children are unable to fulfil their education potential. For example, 400 million school-aged children a year are infected by intestinal worms, which, research shows, sap their learning abilities.

UNICEF and its partners focus resources on improving the health of school-aged children, highlighting the need for hygiene promotion, lifeskills development and water, sanitation and hand-washing facilities in schools.

© IRC, Netherlands

The importance of schools

Schools partly determine children's health and well-being by providing a healthy or unhealthy environment. Although water and sanitation facilities in schools are increasingly recognized as fundamental for promoting good hygiene behaviour and children's well-being, many schools have very poor facilities. Conditions vary from inappropriate and inadequate sanitary facilities to the outright lack of latrines and safe water for drinking and hygiene. This situation contributes to absenteeism and the high drop-out rates of girls.

Schools can also be a key factor for initiating change by helping to develop useful lifeskills on health and hygiene. Children are often eager to learn and willing to absorb new ideas. New hygiene behaviour learned at school can lead to life-long positive habits. Teachers can function as role modelsNew hygiene behaviour learned at school can lead to life-long positive habits. , not only for the children but also within the community. School children can influence the behaviour of family members - both adults and younger siblings - and thereby positively influence the community as a whole. It is also more cost-effective to work with children in school-based programmes than with adults. UNICEF, together with its partners at global and country level, is involved in many different programmes to improve sanitation and promote hygiene in schools. This has resulted in the development of the Manual on School Sanitation and Hygiene Education. School sanitation is an integral part of UNICEF’s efforts in more than 30 countries.

Putting girls first

Household chores, such as fetching water, keep many girls out of school. Even if girls do manage to go to school, they are sent to fetch water when it is needed. Most other household chores – including cleaning latrines and garbage disposal – also fall to women and girls. When family members become sick (often due to hygiene-related diseases), girls are more likely to be kept home to care for them.

Providing water closer to homes increases girls’ free time and boosts their school attendance. All children need a sanitary and hygienic learning environment, but the lack of sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools has a stronger negative impact on girls than on boys. Girls need safe, clean, separate and private sanitation facilities in their schools. UNICEF  water and sanitation programmes try to ensure that a community’s discriminatory attitudes and practices are not reinforced in schools. Girls should not have to haul water and clean latrines at school as well as at home.



Web resources

These Web sites, developed together with UNICEF, provide additional information and tools.

WASH in Schools site (hosted by IRC)

Toolkit on Hygiene, Sanitation and Water in Schools (hosted by the Water and Sanitation Program)

School-Led Total Sanitation

School-Led Total Sanitation (SLTS) places children at the centre of catalysing total sanitation in schools, homes and communities. Learn more.

Nepal SLTS Cover and Guidelines in English

SLTS Cover and Guidelines in Nepali

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