RSPN and Foundations to Promote Open Society (FPOS) collaborated for a legal empowerment project titled “Strengthening Legal Empowerment at RSPs: Capacity Building of Paralegals”. In its pilot phase this project was implemented in eight union councils of districts’ Bahawalpur and Rajanpur from October 2015 to April 2017 through the National Rural Support Programmes (NRSP). The project focused on building capacity of the staff of the Rural Support Programmes (RSPs) and community members including women and men to work as paralegals in rural communities.
The second phase of project was initiated in May, 2017 for two years in eight union councils of Bahawalpur and Rajanpur districts. This project was renamed “Strengthening Legal Empowerment through Community-Based Paralegals” and the project aims to strengthen RSPs to foster Local Support Organisations for legal empowerment of their respective rural communities.
The project has four interlinked components. The first is capacity building of rural support programmes on legal empowerment of paralegals, the second is to raise mass awareness on legal rights protected in the Constitution of Pakistan, the third is the extension of legal assistance and devising referral mechanism for identified cases to settle and the fourth component being strengthening networking and collaboration with the public and private institution in wider benefit of rural communities.
RSPs adopted a model of integrating legal services into its broader work with communities. The model includes community-based volunteer paralegals, already embedded in and committed to helping their communities.
These paralegals in turn are supported by the head of paralegals/social organisers and lawyers. This effort seeks to empower vulnerable communities, particularly women, to access just solutions to their problems, and unseemly or potentially dangerous disputes, and enhance interaction with and support to government institutions.
108,925 rural community members [women-84733, men-24192] have been sensitised through awareness-raising sessions [since the pilot phase to October, 2018] on civil documentation, family laws, women rights, child rights, gender-based rights, consumers’ rights and ombudsman. 6,300 Women have benefited through the legal aid clinic while 770 women have been provided with legal advice. Paralegals assisted support to rural communities in the settlement of their cases which resulted in the resolution of 984 grievances/cases of various nature including but not limited to administrative, family issues and civil documentation. Simultaneously, 26 rural community members provided free legal aid for their cases (women-24) for claiming their legal rights through the court of justice. The degree cases till Oct 2018 have a worth of 4 Million in favor of victim-women however, the remaining cases are in court for degree.
After the successful implementation of the Punjab pilot, this module was adapted and introduced in Sindh and implemented by the same association of OSI, RSPN, and NRSP organisations. This one-year project titled “Strengthening Legal Empowerment in rural communities through community-based paralegals in Sindh Districts” started in January 2018 at two districts of Sindh province namely Tando Muhammad Khan and Tando Allahyar.
During the project, sixteen RSPs staff members, twelve LSOs and 60 community-based paralegals (selected by LSOs) were capacitated through project orientation, introductory meetings, legal empowerment trainings, advocacy events, and legal awareness sessions. Paralegals conducted a total of 4,163 legal awareness sessions on civil documentation and family laws by the end of December 2018 ensuring 86,688 people (57,376 women and 29,312 men) participated. RSPN provided printed and authorised IEC material to Community Based Paralegals (CBPs) for use in legal awareness sessions. As a result of 4,163 legal awareness sessions and nine legal aid clinics, paralegals approached 895 cases and out of them 407 cases of civil documentation, electricity, passports, driving license, residence certificates and labour etc. have been resolved successfully till end of December, 2018.
However 488 remaining cases are advised and in process, thus follow-up of those cases will be taken in the case this project is extended. The intake form of all those cases was filled and cataloged. For community awareness raising and sensitisation, the events of International Labour Day and Rural Women’s Day were also observed at district and UC levels in which 1,135 men and women participated.
During first phase, the project team worked to create strong linkages among LSOs, community-based paralegals, and government line department/service-holders throughout regular meetings of the District Legal Empowerment Forum. For this purpose, project staff and community-based paralegals also did the social mapping of targeted districts and gathered data of people’s needs and available service holders of areas. This data supports staff, LSOs and community-based paralegals throughout the project to strengthen referral mechanisms and develop coordination with stakeholders. Besides that the identified government line department/service-holders have signed MoUs with NRSP for provision of their volunteer services to poor and needy people. RSPN also authorised a research study titled ‘Bonded Labour Survey and Legal Need Assessment Study’ in project-targeted districts and the reports of those studies showed situation analysis of intervention areas. In August 2018, Project Manager Sindh was invited by OSI & FEDO for a Nepal visit to attend the Regional Conference on ‘Equal Access to Justice for All: Using Law to Dismantle Caste-Based Discrimination in South Asia’.