ASTHA project’s Court Help Desk to prevent rising violence
Nargis Akter ( not her real name), 30 years old, from Chalbunia under Galachipa Upazila has been abandoned by her husband Abdul Bari since last one year.
A mother of two children Nargis did not know about government's legal support, free of cost is available for a destitute woman like her until she met Nowsin, a Legal Support Officer (LSO), who brought her to the Legal Aid Office, under judge court in Patuakhali.
There she consulted with the Legal Aid Officer and with the help of Panel Lawyer, she filed a case against her husband who has married another woman without divorce her, under Muslim Family Law, seeking alimony and maintenance. Now that Panel Lawyer is processing her case.
Like Nargis, hundreds of women, victim of gender-based violence, of them a good number of women who are financially sound also receive such referral services from four Court Help Desks of ASTHA project areas: Bogura, Cox's Bazar, Jamalpur, and Patuakhali, with the support of Ain O Salish Kendra and UNFPA. The service includes psychosocial counseling support to the survivors, helping survivors to receive government's free of cost legal aid support and collecting necessary documents related with the cases, maintaining regular communication with the panel lawyers to receive update on the progress of the cases, ensuring necessary support for survivors through referral mechanism with different multi-sectoral public service providers, district legal aid officer, civil surgeon, police super, district social welfare affairs, and district women affairs.
Talking to the Daily Observer, Nowsin the LSO informed that the case workers and social mobilization officers conduct awareness sessions with both men and women to bring positive change on their behavior and attitude against gender-based violence.
This project also spread campaigns in the district and upazila level to reach out broader audience.
"We launch campaign against gender-based violence in the remote areas, where most of the victims are unaware about government's legal support, free of cost is available for them. When we give them information and logistic support, they proactively initiate to report violence incidents," she said.
Besides, counseling and campaigning, Nowsin also maintains regular follow up of the cases which are being filed by the survivors.
Md. Lutfur Rahman, district Legal Aid Officer, said that the number of cases is increasing after ASTHA's campaigns in the rural area.
"I strongly believe that these women were not aware about gender based violence. Once they come across with the campaigns and information of availability of legal services which is given free of cost, the number of survivors also has started to increase, "he said.
"This project is working as a bridge between the survivors and the providers. It was very difficult to reach this huge number of clients who are direct victims of gender based violence due to our limited budget and lack of man power," he added while talking to this correspondent at his Patuakhali district office very recently.
Asked if they are taking any special steps to address this issue like building a Court Help Desk to ensure prompt service to the marginal people, responding to this question he said that government has planned to introduce some pragmatic step such as alternative service availability in the two days government holidays when the clients are totally out of such services.
He also noted that the number of gender based violence could be decreased and prevented if such campaigns go on in the remote areas.
When asked Khaleda Khanam, Team Leader of ASTHA project of ASK, about the objective of the project, she said that Most of the women are not aware about the legal support of district legal aid office, policing strategy for the GBV survivors, social help available in upazila women affairs department, health support in hospitals and in the social welfare affairs department.
"We want women, who are survivors, to be aware about all the above services are available and they can get free of cost," Khanam said who has been working in four districts with particularly high gender-based violence rates-Jamalpur, Patuakhali, Bogura, and Cox's Bazar.
ASTHA project established its 1st Court Help Desk (CHD) at Court premises in the Bogura district on 1st October 2019.
Another, three Court Help Desks (CHD) were established by September 2019. Till 31th October about 562 women and girls have received Counseling (Psychosocial First Aid- PFA), Legal advice and information, Case Filing at Court, and Legal assistance (Documents collection, Fill-up Legal forms, Linkage with other Govt. services) from Court Help Desks (CHD) through Legal Support Officer (LSO) at Bogura, Cox's Bazar, Jamalpur and Patuakhali districts of ASTHA project. The types of GBV cases are Sexual abuse, Physical abuse, Emotional abuse, Domestic violence, Dowry, Alimony, Human trafficking, Kidnap, Cybercrime etc.
A total of 97 women and girls have received legal help services from the Court Help Desk of Patuakhali district in the last two months.