Dutch children have ‘no unconditional right’ to water’ if their parents don’t pay the bill

A Dutch court has made a controversial ruling that children do not have a fundamental right to water at home if their parents have failed to pay the bill.

In a unique case which began two years ago, two human rights organisations, Defence for Children and Nederlands Juristen Comité voor de Mensenrechten (NJCM), had argued that, under United Nations human rights law, children have the fundamental right to clean water.

The organisations had sued both the government and two water companies, citing that families with children must not be cut off from the general water supply on the grounds of non-payment. But judges sitting at The Court of The Hague ultimately disagreed, and dismissed the claims of the two organisations.

The court said that drinking water in the Netherlands is supplied on the basis of a contract with a company, which you have to pay, but if no payment is made, there is a special regulation that ensures households’ supply can only be disconnected after several reminders have been issued, and personal details given to debt collectors, In such circumstances an emergency supply of drinking is provided for a few more days.

‘Underage children should never be cut off from water’

This also provides the opportunity for the bill payer to agree a way forward with the water company so that access continues. Defence for Children and the NJCM had argued that households with underage children ‘should never be cut off from drinking water in the event of non-payment’.

The court however said that the primary responsibility for a child’s well-being rests with the parents/carers, and it is ‘therefore..up to them to make arrangements if they cannot pay the bill’. The court concluded that neither the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), nor the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) ‘does not give a child an unconditional right to access drinking water’, and there is ‘no question’ of any violation of human rights if the water is turned off in these circumstances.

“The court is of the opinion that the state and/or the drinking water companies should not, on the basis of the CRC and/or the ECHR, ensure that households with minor children are not cut off from drinking water in the event of non-payment.

‘This is not unlawful towards children’

“In general, this is not unlawful towards children. In a concrete case, where all circumstances are taken into account and the situation of a particular child is taken into account, the situation may be different, but this case is not about concrete cases.”

In a joint statement, Defence for Children and the NJCM said they were ‘disappointed’ and would be appealing the ruling. “The organisations had hoped that families with children should no longer be isolated from water, in view of their children’s and human rights,” they added.

Author: Simon Weedy

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