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Women benefit from legal aid services at Brong Ahafo



Unending disagreements between husbands and wives, irresponsible parenting and the failure of fathers in separated marriages to fend for their children are some of the stories which abound in Ghana, especially in the rural areas.

But one institution that has been playing a pivotal role in the mediation of marital issues in the country is the Legal Aid Scheme (LAS), a constitutional body established to mediate cases and offer free legal services to the vulnerable and weak in society.

Legal Aid Scheme
The Ghana Legal Aid Scheme is a public service organisation within the justice delivery system of Ghana. It is one of the component institutions which the Ministry for Justice has oversight responsibility and is governed by a board of directors.

It operates country-wide from 10 offices in all the regional capitals and recruits Legal Aid Officers (ADR) and lawyers.

The extent of work being executed by the LAS in terms of mediation came to the fore during a working visit to the LAS offices at Duayaw Nkwanta in the Tano North District and Techiman Municipality, both in the Brong Ahafo Region, by the Communications Analyst of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Mr Bossman Owusu.

To facilitate the work of the LAS, the UNDP has supplied furniture, computers and printers to many district and regional LAS offices across the country.
Mr Bossman’s visit was to assess the work of the LAS, find out their challenges and discuss how the UNDP could offer support in that regard.

Mediation beneficiaries
Madam Faustina Agbesi, 37, a resident of Duayaw Nkwanta, benefitted from the services of the LAS when she had a rift with her husband because of his excessive alcohol intake.

Besides, her husband did not support her to cater for their seven children. As a result, five of the children were not in school.

Tired with the situation, Madam Faustina took a decision to divorce her husband. When she took the case to the LAS, the husband was called and through mediation the husband promised to reform.

“Whenever he got drunk, he would pull a knife and threaten to kill me. There was no food at home while the children too were not in school,” Madam Faustina told the Daily Graphic.

“I am happy now. My husband has quit drinking and our children are in school. We can now laugh as a family,” she said with a smile.
She was quick to thank Mr Ishmael Yeboah Ofosu, Dispute Resolution Officer, Duayaw Nkwanta, and his team for the professional manner in which they handled the case.

Another beneficiary is a 28-year-old lady, Ms Benedicta Antwiwaa, who had difficulty getting the father of her first child to cater for the boy.

“I am indeed happy now because he has taken our son to school and I am able to visit the boy anytime I want,” she said.
Mr Ofosu said he felt a sense of elation to see his clients resolve their differences with their present and past lovers.

Other cases for Legal Aid Scheme
Other issues that the LAS deals with are debt settlement, breach of contract and tenancy disagreements.

Madam Naomi, a trader at Techiman, had a debt issue with a micro finance company and LAS was able to mediate and settle the case by asking the company to use Madam Naomi’s savings with the bank to defray the loan, a suggestion that the company kicked against earlier.

The Assistant Alternative Dispute Resolution Officer at the Techiman Municipality, Mr Michael Adusei, said he found joy in  seeing the smiles of his clients, especially the women.

In the Duayaw Nkwanta LAS office 92 cases, comprising child maintenance, breach of contract, tenancy and compensation cases were recorded between January, 2015 and June, 2015.

Forty four of the cases have been resolved, 44 pending and four of the cases have been referred to the Brong Ahafo Regional LAS office.

In the Techiman Municipality, 67 cases of child maintenance, debt recovery, breach of contract and tenancy were recorded between January, 2015 and June, 2015.

Challenges of Legal Aid Scheme
The officers complained that offices for mediation were too small, as they could not contain their numerous clients.

They mentioned that one of the principles of mediation was confidentiality.

However, because of the size of the offices, other clients waiting for their turn outside the office can hear the discussions.

Besides, the officers said they did not have official vehicles to facilitate their movements across their respective areas to offer legal advice and services.

UNDP’s response
Mr Bossman said the UNDP’s support for the LAS was an attempt to facilitate the extension of legal services to the poor and vulnerable in society.

He affirmed the UNDP’s commitment to the continuous partnership with the LAS in its delivery of free legal services in the country.

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