Sri Lanka Uncategorized

Mobile clinics for improving access to legal aid in Sri Lanka

Lawyers and beneficiaries at a legal clinic in Kulamankadu, Jaffna District, February 2017

Earlier this year, communities in the Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka attended legal and documentation clinics where they could receive advice and solutions on legal issues.

Helping vulnerable citizens to regain their rights

Through the project ‘Strengthening Fundamental Rights and Freedoms in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka’, funded by the European Union, ACTED, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and SOND mobilised lawyers and government officials who then travelled to more than 140 villages in Jaffna and Batticaloa Districts to provide legal advice and help citizens obtain documentation that they had often lost during the civil war or the tsunami. One of the most common situations is that of parents who could not get their marriage registered because they had never received their birth certificates, and whose children cannot get any birth certificate either because their parents are not officially married. As a result, many vulnerable families are not registered and do not have access to social benefits and services that they should yet be entitled to.

From marriage certificates to access to social services

During awareness sessions on access to justice and fundamental rights, these families realised the importance of having legal documentation, which they were able to obtain with the help of lawyers and government officials through mobile clinics. “We realised the importance of registering our marriage: since we have obtained a marriage certificate, my family has been able to receive food aid from the government”, says Dharshini, one of the clinics’ beneficiaries. Tanusha, another beneficiary, was also finally able to register her marriage and obtain her son’s birth certificate, which enabled her to officially register as a family in the Samurdhi programme – a social welfare programme for low-income households in Sri Lanka.

Empowered citizens, accountable government

Shiranthi is one of the lawyers who provided legal advice at one of the mobile clinics that were organised. “I think the project has been helpful for the population and that the clinics have been very successful in helping the communities to solve some of the most common legal concerns”, she says, proud of having served in mobile clinics that supported citizens in claiming their rights. She now hopes to be part of the pool of lawyers that will provide legal advice again to communities for the second round of mobile clinics to be conducted shortly.

Shiranthi was also impressed by the dedication and involvement of some government officials who also served as resource persons for mobile clinics. She is also convinced that these clinics have made government officials more aware of the daily challenges that their communities have been facing, and hopes that this will ultimately increase their accountability towards all Sri Lankan citizens.

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