Action Plus/ENCISS embark on community education
A nongovernmental organization Action Plus is working to ensure the full implementation of three gender justice laws in the Kenema district, with a special focus on public education so that communities understand the rights enshrined in the legislation, as well as the full enforcement of these laws by the authorities.
With the support of an ENCISS strategic grant, Action Plus has conducted community education events aimed at demystifying the laws and providing information about how citizens can seek help or report crimes. Action Plus provides a mediation service to help resolve disputes, as well as legal assistance for women seeking justice.
Working with district level authorities such as the council and family support units, Action Plus is supporting them to improve the quality of the service and response that they provide for the citizens of Kenema district, and a manifestation of the activeness of Action Plus was in the case one Sowa Brima whose two daughters were abandoned by her husband until the intervention of Action Plus with support from ENCISS.
Sowa Brima stays in Kenema and was first contacted at the magistrates court that went to collect the first court-ordered maintenance payment from her husband, her arrival at court that morning marked the culmination of a long search for justice and her hope of a more secure future for herself and her two daughters, abandoned by her husband and in debt, Sowa was struggling to make ends meet and all attempts to get help from the chief, social welfare and family support unit to force her husband to pay child maintenance had failed. It was only after Action Plus took up Sowa’s case, provided legal assistance and accompanied her throughout the legal case that she has been able to get a court agreement forcing her husband to pay maintenance.
In pursuing Sowa Brima’s case, Action Plus faces a legal conundrum as a child under the age of 18 can marry with the consent of a parent under the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act which contradicts children’s rights legislation which sets the minimum age at 18 years.
With the support of ENCISS, Action Plus has been able to retain the services of a lawyer to help deal with the more complex cases like this one. “ENCISS has helped a lot,” Agnes continued. “We have been able to retain a lawyer. Most people cannot afford a lawyer and by giving us this grant we have been able to provide legal aid for victims of domestic violence.”
Despite the legislative changes which have increased women’s protection under law, the stark reality is that women are subject to discrimination in day-to-day life, according to Agnes Sandy, Project Manager at Action Plus.
Action Plus has conducted community education events aimed at demystifying the laws and providing information about how citizens can access help or report crimes. Action Plus has targeted five chiefdoms, reaching 15 communities with a population of approximately 15,000 people. “The community people don’t know the law so we explain their rights,” Agnes said. “We hire someone who speaks the local language – the deputy registrar who has a good way of putting the law to the people using practical examples.”
Agnes also recognizes that there is a critical need to improve the responsiveness and accountability of the authorities and police, “as most people confide in close families and friends first. Where do they go next? In these communities, people will go to the chief who is ok for minor cases then the family support units (FSU) but some are not satisfied with these and there have been times when an FSU has extorted money from the victims.”
The FSUs are specialist teams attached to police stations with a mandate to investigate reports of child abuse and violence against women. At a recent awareness raising event, Action Plus invited the head of a local FSU to participate and to outline to the community the services that they provide and that these services were provided free of charge.
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