Justice and Development

Four billion people around the world live without the protections of the law. They live without access to their rights, vulnerable to exploitation and violence. Poverty will only be defeated when the law works for everyone.

Fifteen years ago the UN’s Millennium Development Goals set out to eliminate extreme poverty. They helped bring enormous progress, but there is much left to be done. Now, with the goals set to expire in 2015, the world is rethinking its development agenda. It’s a chance to get things right. It’s a chance to include a goal for justice.  In 2015, the UN will set new development goals.

Why add a justice goal?

Evidence shows that access to justice boosts development. In the Philippines, the Asian Development Bank studied the impact of training community members as paralegals to support agrarian reform. Farmers in communities with paralegals saw higher levels of productivity, higher farm incomes, and more investment in their farms. In Indonesia, a local NGO used female paralegals to expand understanding about rights and entitlements in female-headed households.

Alongside international partners, the NGO supported government reforms of state and religious justice institutions by raising awareness and assisting with women’s cases, contributing to a fourfold increase in the number of women able to access circuit courts the following year. In Ecuador, the World Bank evaluated five legal service centers focused on enforcing child support payments for poor women and reducing domestic violence.

The study found that the centers’ clients seeking child support were 20 percent more likely to succeed than those without access to legal aid. They were also 17 percent less likely to experience physical violence after separation from their partners.

In India, filing claims under the Right to Information Act (RTIA) has helped New Delhi’s slum dwellers to obtain ration cards for subsidized foodstuffs. A Yale University study found that 94 percent of ration card applicants who filed RTIA inquiries into the status of their application received their cards within a year. Only 21 percent of those who did not file a claim received their cards.

In Sierra Leone, extended or unlawful pretrial detention damages the prosperity and health of prisoners and their families.

An Oxford University study showed that a program placing paralegals in prisons to provide free legal services has reduced the numbers of prisoners held on remand by 20 percent and increased the percentage gaining access to bail by 13 percent. There are many, many more examples of justice improving development and reducing poverty.

Source: The Open Society Foundation

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