Strengthening Access to Justice for Children and Youth in East Africa – Naivasha, Kenya 2013

STOCK PHOTO : SXU.HU

STOCK PHOTO : SXU.HU

Plenary sessions and working groups on Tuesday, day one of the conference, discussed the barriers and the possibilities for access to justice in East Africa. The participants, from the law societies and NGOs in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, compared their shared issues related to gender. Many of the topics might have occupied a whole session: marriages involving girls between 14 and 18, child sexual and physical abuse in rural areas where there are neither police nor legal assistance, crime among the growing population of street youth, legal supports and due process for these children when arrested, inadequate correctional services for youth, an absence in many places of separate detention facilities for women and girls. Judges and those from government ministries shared in the spirited discussions.

The Canadian participants found that most of these issues resonated with the Canadian experience, although different in scale as well as in the resources to address the issues in Canada.

Girl in Kenyian Villiage

STOCK PHOTO : SXC.HU

Reporting on Gender Issues from Day One flowed over into Wednesday’s agenda.

The persistent practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) was an example of an issue needing its own conference! Social and legal approaches exchanged by the East Africans, and suggestions for social change were both daunting and  enlightening for the Canadians. We did not presume to enter this discussion but listened avidly. This issue is alive among populations recently migrated to Canada. As the East African participants emphasized, changes must come, but they will evolve over time, with education and community leadership from those with influence.

Mtaib Mtaib, CEO of the Zanzibar Law Societyn addresses delegates on needs assessment work in Tanzania. To his right, Joan Onyango, staff lawyer of Kenya Law Reform Commission and Elizabeth Wilson, Manager, International Development, Operations and Gender program, Canadian Bar Association.

Mtaib Mtaib, CEO of the Zanzibar Law Society addresses delegates on needs assessment work in Tanzania. To his right, Joan Onyango, staff lawyer of Kenya Law Reform Commission and Elizabeth Wilson, Manager, International Development, Operations and Gender program, Canadian Bar Association. ANN MCRAE

East African organizations, both NGOs and governments, typically have very limited resources, but they have opportunities to partner with funding organizations from the family of United Nations agencies such as UNICEF. Also, there are foundations and government aid agencies in almost all developed countries (such as DFATD, former known as CIDA, in Canada). Support for this conference provided by Canada’s DFATD through the Canadian Bar Association means that the local law societies can gain tools for needs assessment, outcome measures and planning processes. Such skills and tools will ensure the effectiveness and impact of each development dollar brought by funders.

Mary Marrone lead off the discussion of needs assessment, defining the goals and terms used, for those unfamiliar with conducting a detailed assessment of need. The local working groups then described how this plays out in their regions: How long will it really take to travel to each village? How and when can one  interview the women if they are not expecting you, and they are in their fields doing farm work? How does one identify which local leaders, men and women, can provide information about children’s issues? When is it appropriate to send the adults away, and ask the children about their concerns?

The depth and breadth of unaddressed social and legal needs could easily lead one to despair. The stories of sexual abuse and assault of children, as gathered by a modestly-resourced group in Uganda, and recounted by the conference participants, were only a narrow slice of a much wider socio-legal need. In the face of this, the commitment of the working groups to gather this data, to assemble it into persuasive reports, is impressive. They understand how necessary these data and reports are to lever systemic changes and funding for services. They also accept that access-to-justice projects cannot proceed everywhere at once, so they aim to make changes in installments: pilot projects to extend information and rights-based advocacy may lead to more wide-spread access to justice in the future.

Mary Marrone describes how the needs assessment model used by the CBA in various countries was developed during the expansion of legal clinics in Ontario in 2000 -2001.

Mary Marrone describes how the needs assessment model used by the CBA in various countries was developed during the expansion of legal clinics in Ontario in 2000 -2001. ANN MCRAE

For some relief from the weighty discussions, the conference site offers unparalleled nature-watching. The air is filled with coos, whistles, warbles and shrieks. Large and tiny birds are walking around, twittering in the trees, and soaring overhead in dozens, maybe hundreds of varieties, from the tiniest finches to eagles, pelicans, storks and cranes. A small  herd of waterbuck and a few gazelles and antelope wander through the grounds. A group of hippos comes ashore from Lake Naivasha daily (and nightly) to graze at the resort, to the fascination of conference guests.

Gazelle, impala, topi & hartebeest at Masai mara

STOCK PHOTO : SXC.HU

Ann McRae is the Director of Legal Services at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic, Toronto ON, Canada.

Mary Marrone is the Director of Advocacy and Legal Services at the Income Security Advocacy Centre, Toronto ON, Canada.

Mtaib Mtaib is the Chief Executive Office of the Zanzibar Law Society, Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Joan Onyango is a Staff Lawyer with the Kenya Law Reform Commission, Nairobi, Kenya.

Elizabeth Wilson is the Manager of Operations and Gender Programing with the Canadian Bar Association’s International Development Committee, Ottawa ON, Canada.

External Links:
Lawyers call for harsh laws to curb sexual offences
Regional Lawyers Champion Childrens’ Rights
What can Canadian lawyers contribute to a legal conference in Kenya?
Kenya Law Reform Commission
East Africa Law Society

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