BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa – After the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia launched a legal aid clinic in Buchanan in February this year to help protect the rights of women and children, the association says persistent non-support has been the most prominent type of cases they have dealt with.
Persistent non-support is when an individual persistently fails to support a child, spouse, or other dependents that he or she is legally obliged to support.
The legal aid clinic in Grand Bassa says it has recorded a total of 70 cases between February and August. The clinic was launched with support from UNDP and UNMIL and aims to strengthen the justice system through protecting and promoting the rights of women, children, and impoverished persons for free.
According to the head of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia in Buchanan, besides persistent non-support, the legal clinic was also seeing cases involving disorderly conduct, abandonment of home, and sexual and gender-based violence.
“Most of our cases involve issues surrounding family,” Yeahnee King Allen told The Bush Chicken. “To keep the family intact, our first approach is to have a mediation conference where we will bring in both parties to discuss the conflict and see how we can resolve the conflict at the conference level.”
Only 4 of the 70 cases were taken to court, she said, adding that two were resolved or dismissed while the others are still in court.
“Most times, both parties are hurt to some extent and then, they just need a common ground for somebody to guide their discussion; so what we can do is guide the discussion between the aggrieved parties and see how they themselves can arrive at a decision that will be acceptable to all of them, so that is what we can do at our mediatory conferences,” she explained.
Allen said the case dismissed involved a widow whose late husband’s family wanted to claim land belonging to her late husband. A disorderly conduct case involving a woman who was attacked near a Buchanan nightclub was resolved.
The rest of the 66 cases were mediated, Allen said. She said AFELL, the lawyers’ group, provides a friendly environment for both parties to settle their differences void of intimidation and coercion.
She said AFELL can also assist men whose rights have been abused but do not have money to hire a lawyer to represent them in court; however, she said the organization would not represent men who have the means to pay their legal fees.
Allen added that AFELL can also represent any woman dealing with sexual and gender-based violence, regardless of their ability to pay legal fees.
“We hardly handle divorce matters because we are interested in the unity of the family,” she added. “So we do not go to court to represent parties that want to divorce. We try to see how we can settle the dispute so that the family will be ok.”
When clients are determined to end their marriages, Allen said AFELL directs them to find a lawyer.
Meanwhile, Allen asked that employers work with AFELL on cases of persistent non-support to garnish the wages of their employees who were refusing to take care of their families. She added that managers needed to instruct their finance departments to start deducting from the salaries of employees who were on the wrong side of the law.
Featured photo by Sampson David