Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes: Integrating child protection

Water-Sanitation-and-HygieneThe provision of safe, age-appropriate WASH facilities is instrumental in ensuring children’s safety and wellbeing. WASH approaches should promote and respect the rights and dignity of women, boys and girls, especially those who are vulnerable, including vulnerability towards violence. 

Standard: All children have access to appropriate water, sanitation and hygiene services that support their dignity and minimise risks of physical and sexual violence and exploitation. (CPMS, 2019)

Download a printable risk assessment summarising the guidelines below


  • Work with the child protection sector to identify places where child-focused services take place and provide sustainable access to safe WASH facilities
  • Where appropriate, combine priority WASH messaging (such as handwashing and safe drinking water) and priority child protection messages (such as family unity and prevention of violence)
  • Work with education and child protection sectors to initiate child-to-child peer training programmes in schools, to conduct hygiene promotion and disseminate health education and safety messages

Keep children safe and avoid causing harm

Understand the context

  • Which child protection issues are affecting children in the community?
  • What coping strategies are families currently using to meet their WASH needs?
    • Where do people get water when there is shortage?
    • Where do people go to the toilet?
    • Are these strategies placing their safety and dignity at risk?

Reduce risks of harm within projects

  • Ensure that WASH facilities are designed with the safety of children in mind, including size of toilets, and by building walls and fences around open sources of water, tanks or wells
  • Separate toilets and bathing facilities, using pictograms for identification and with inside locks, should be provided for women and girls
  • Ensure that the size and weight of water containers do not pose a risk to children, but also minimize the expectation that children will be involved in water collection and avoid distributing ‘special’ containers for children
  • Ensure that those working in WASH have signed up to and been trained in a code of conduct or other policy which covers child safeguarding, as well as training on specific risks children might face around poor WASH facilities

Reduce risk of exacerbating existing protection risks 

  • Make sure that WASH facilities are situated in safe and accessible locations, within easy walking distance and with adequate lighting
  • Ensure that any scheduled distributions are timed so as to allow children and women collecting water to return home before dark
  • Consider providing services to the local community as well, particularly where inequitable access to WASH facilities is causing tension or conflict

Ensure children’s access to assistance 

Make sure the most at-risk children are accessing services

  • Ensure that beneficiaries of interventions include children who are particularly at risk of violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect:
    • Children in residential care
    • Children who have lost one or more caregiver
    • Child caregivers and child head of households
    • Children on the street
    • Children with disabilities

Adapt programming to remove barriers to access

  • Children with disabilities may need different or greater quantities of personal hygiene items, or may need additional support
  • Make adaptations such as ramps and railings to ensure access for all
  • Caregivers of infants and small children up to 4 years should know laundering practices and how to dispose safely of infants’ faeces
  • Adolescent girls (and some girls of 8 or older) need to have suitable materials for managing menstruation as well as appropriate washing facilities

Include feedback and participation

  • Ensure that women, men, boys and girls take part in decision-making processes to locate, design and maintain WASH facilities (e.g. through WASH committees)
  • Consult both displaced communities and host communities about WASH needs
  • Disseminate life-saving messages in child-friendly ways to help children understand the importance of hygiene
  • Set up an accessible and confidential complaints and feedback mechanism

Respond effectively and appropriately to incidents of abuse

  • Ensure that staff know where and how to refer child survivors of abuse and children who are separated or otherwise at risk to appropriate services

Strengthen systems and help children to claim their rights

  • Signpost other services, including legal services to respond to incidents of abuse, if required

Monitor and evaluate

Include the safety of the affected population, including children, as a sub-objective of each WASH intervention. Ensure project indicators are disaggregated by age, gender, and location or specific group.

Sample objectives and indicators:

  • % of schools, child-friendly spaces and health facilities where child-appropriate WASH facilities are in place
  • % of surveyed hygiene promoters who can give the name of at least one place where they can refer a child survivor of violence
  • % of women and girls of menstruating age provided with access to appropriate materials for menstrual hygiene management

Key references, standards and guidelines

These guidelines are based on:

And additional guidelines and resources listed here

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