Legal aid desks provide pro bono advice in conflict-affected Swat
Zakirullah, 15, will never forget the day that a verbal exchange with a neighbour turned physical and he was stabbed between the ribs. “I was asking him about the keys to my workplace. He began poking fun at my stutter. When I would not stop asking about the keys, he stabbed me,” Zakir remembers.
Bystanders hurried him to Madain Hospital, about ten kilometres away. But no one would treat the injured teenager without a first investigation report (FIR) filed at the police station. The family eventually managed to register the FIR over the telephone. By this time, Zakir had a great deal of blood and was unconscious. He was referred to a larger hospital in Mingora, some 50 kilometres away – a difficult and expensive move.
Zakir’s father, Akhtar Munir is a labourer earning barely PKR 500 ($5) a day. “I was at work when I heard about Zakir’s stabbing. It was a painful experience to see my own son like that,” he says. The financial burden was acute, and was worsened by the challenges to accessing justice in the region.
Zakir and his family belong to Behrain, Swat district, in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
Zakir survived, but the family’s troubles had only just begun. “It has been a year since this happened,” says his mother. “An entire marketplace witnessed this heinous crime, but no one was willing to speak up – that boy was a criminal, but a financially secure one.” Yet navigating the legal system was immensely challenging for this impoverished family.
Fortunately, the child protection office of the provincial Social Welfare Department referred Zakir’s case to a legal aid desk. There, after careful analysis, it was found that the case had too many loopholes in it – the FIR was unclear and the accused had fled to Saudi Arabia after just 12 days in jail. Zakir’s lawyer knew there weren’t many good legal options. So, he did the next best thing: he arranged a PKR 40,000 payment ($400) to the family to cover Zakir’s medical expenses.
Akhtar Munir is relieved and grateful for this assistance. His son is alive and his medical expenses are fully covered. There were no legal fees to pay, as the legal aid desk is operated pro bono and supported by the Swiss Cooperation Office in Pakistan and UNDP’s Strengthening Rule of Law Programme.
This programme aims to deepen ongoing efforts to secure peace and stability in the region by enhancing effective and accountable justice and security service delivery. The project has supported legal aid desks and clinics, provided training on dispute resolution, and supported women to enter the legal profession. To date, 8,345 people (45 percent women) have benefited from legal aid clinics, and 188 cases have been referred for follow up to legal aid desks.