Legal Aid & Support for 450 Women in Sierra Leone

by AdvocAid
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Legal Aid & Support for 450 Women in Sierra Leone
Legal Aid & Support for 450 Women in Sierra Leone
Legal Aid & Support for 450 Women in Sierra Leone
Legal Aid & Support for 450 Women in Sierra Leone
Legal Aid & Support for 450 Women in Sierra Leone
Legal Aid & Support for 450 Women in Sierra Leone
Legal Aid & Support for 450 Women in Sierra Leone
Legal Aid & Support for 450 Women in Sierra Leone
Legal Aid & Support for 450 Women in Sierra Leone
Legal Aid & Support for 450 Women in Sierra Leone
Legal Aid & Support for 450 Women in Sierra Leone

Finding sureties, or finding people to be responsible for someone being released from correctional custody while they await trial, is an important aspect of AdvocAid’s work. During our work in 2020 we found that a number of women, like Mariatu*, struggled to meet the bail conditions required for their release, often due to the lack of family able or willing to stand as surety.

While she was heavily pregnant, Mariatu’s husband abandoned her and their three children to live with his new girlfriend. Struggling to feed herself and her children, Mariatu went to beg her husband to help care for his family. Her husband refused to return home or provide for his family. Distraught and jealous, Mariatua stabbed the girlfriend on her side during an argument.

Nine months pregnant with twins, Mariatu was arrested for wounding with intent and detained in a police station for 14 days. She was later transferred to the Kabala correctional center where she gave birth to a boy and girl. Unfortunately, she remained detained with her twins throughout the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Sierra Leone. In October 2020, AdvocAid was able to convince the magistrate to reduce her bail conditions. Her bail conditions required a single family member to stand as surety while she awaits trial. In part because of the stigma, no one, including her husband, is willing to do so.

Mariatu is still at the Kabala Correctional center with her twins. AdvocAid continues to provide welfare support and we continue to work to secure the release of Mariatu and her twins. With your support AdvocAid will continue to hold more legal education sessions this new year to increase communities’ knowledge on legal rights processes including the importance of standing as surety for women like Mariatu. 

 

*name changed to protect her anonymity

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Baby imprisoned with its mother
Baby imprisoned with its mother

This will be the final report for our longest running project on GlobalGiving. We have nearly reached our funding target (thanks to all of our wonderful donors!), and as we have launched our 10 Year Anniversary Appeal, we have closed down this project. Instead, we hope that our followers and recurring donors would consider supporting our anniversary project ‘Celebrating 10 Years of Justice for Women’.

In the three years, this project has been running, AdvocAid has increased its outreach significantly. In 2013-15, we provided free legal aid for 2,741 women and girls in conflict with the law – that is nearly three cases every day!

With the help of people like you, we continue to deliver vital legal representation, education and rehabilitation services to vulnerable women, girls and children caught up in Sierra Leone’s often unjust legal system. In the last three months alone, we provided 271 women with legal assistance, gave welfare packs to 36 women and taught 96 women in our literacy and numeracy classes.

One of our most recent clients was 20-year old Mariama, whose case ended in an unexpectedly positive way.

Imprisoned over a wedding dress - Mariama is five months pregnant and already a mother of one. She was hoping that her boyfriend would propose to her, so she took her sister-in-law's wedding gown without permission - hoping that she could convince him to marry her. In the meantime, she left the dress with a friend for safekeeping.

Mariama's boyfriend did not agree, however, so she decided to return the dress. But when she went back to her friend's place to pick it up, both friend and dress had disappeared.

Mariama's sister-in-law found out and reported her to the police. Unable to pay for the missing wedding gown, Mariama was sentenced to 18 months in prison or to pay a fine of Le 400,000 ($67) and compensation of Le 3 million ($500). Our paralegal tried to find someone in Mariama’s family who could urgently pay the fine, but as he was unsuccessful, Mariama could not meet the bail requirements. Despite AdvocAid’s plea for alternative sentencing, she was imprisoned without consideration of her pregnancy.

Under normal circumstances, this could have been the end of that story. However, the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs heard of the issue, and he made sure her fine was paid. After four weeks in detention, Mariama was released, and she now has time to find a way to pay the compensation.

Let’s ensure another 10 years of justice - We applaud the Minister for making the right decision in a case that was beyond tragic. Sadly, most imprisoned women are not as lucky as Mariama, and it is not uncommon for young mothers to have their children placed in foster care or even being incarcerated with children below the age of two.

We work to ensure that the legal system is prepared to accommodate the specific needs of female inmates and we see this as crucial in ensuring access to justice for women and girls. Yet after the Ebola outbreak, funding for legal aid has become increasingly difficult to come by, as most of it goes to the health and education sectors. This leaves women and girls in the criminal justice system even more vulnerable.

For ten years, private donations from people like you has enabled AdvocAid to provide holistic legal aid services to women and girls like Mariama – as the only organisation in Sierra Leone! Please help us continue our work for another decade by making your next donation to our anniversary project.

*The name of our client has been changed to protect her identity.

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Sia's Story - detained for three days
Sia's Story - detained for three days

This is our first report to you since we entered 2016, and kick-started the year of our 10th anniversary. We’re incredibly excited to share, throughout this year, some of our key achievements.

One of our proudest, which relates to this project which you have so kindly supported, is the number of women we have been able to provide legal aid to in recent years. Since 2010, we have worked with 3,007 women, providing them with legal assistance, education and representation. That’s 11 cases handled every week over the past five years.

This project has been a large contributor to enabling us to achieve this - thank you very much for your investment in ensuring Sierra Leone’s girls and women have access to justice.

Below is a recent case study of a woman we have supported, thanks to your support. 

Sia (name changed to protect her identify) is 22 years old and lives in Kissy – a poor area of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. In late 2015, she was arrested and detained at a police station by the order of a Chief.

Sia had been detained for the offence of Disorderly Behaviour. She had allegedly been arguing with a neighbour when the Chief intervened, asking them both to make peace. Sia complied, but her neighbour later went to the Chief and paid him a bribe to carry favour with him. Subsequently, the Chief ordered Sia’s arrest and detention for refusal to pay a fine of 150,000 Leones (about $30) which he had imposed on her.

Sia was in detention for two days before AdvocAid’s paralegal conducted routine monitoring at the police station and became aware of her case.

Tragically, in Sierra Leone, a high number of people suffer from the unlawful use of power by Chiefs – AdvocAid commonly comes across cases where people have been levied a fine, in relation to cases in which the Chief has no jurisdiction to apply such fines. 

AdvocAid’s Paralegal met with the Community Chairman (also the Chief’s Clerk), requesting that he and the Chief report to the station to settle the matter. AdvocAid’s Paralegal cautioned the Chief about his actions, confirming that it is illegal for the Chief to levy such fines. Our interventions were successful with Sia being released after three days of being detained at the Police Station. AdvocAid’s Paralegal also ensured the Chief refunded the 150,000 Leones he had taken from Sia’s sister (which he had said was needed for Sia’s release).

Sia commented that: “AdvocAid’s Paralegal has created the awareness that the Chiefs do not have the legal right to fine, and people are only answerable to the General Law. Such awareness should be extended to other women who are unlawful treated by Chiefs.”

AdvocAid is currently working to see that Chief’s misuse of authority be put to an end and that more women know that it is illegal for a Chief to impose a fine.

We are incredibly grateful for your support of this project, enabling our Paralegals to continue ensuring women like Sia are not negatively affected due to a lack of legal knowledge. There remains a huge need for Paralegal’s to continue providing free legal assistance and education – if you’re able to make a regular donation to AdvocAid’s work, we’d be extremely grateful. Thank you in advance. 

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This report comes with the exciting news, that between January and October 2015, our paralegals have provided legal aid to 985 girls and women - 940 women and 45 juveniles. With just one month left of 2015, we hope to reach 1,000 girls and women supported this year.

You can help us achieve this by making a donation to this project today.

This case load has been managed between seven paralegals, meaning that with your support, they’re each providing critical legal aid and assistance to on average, three women a day.

AdvocAid’s paralegals provide advice, support detainees with securing bail (a process fraught with corruption and delays) travel to liaise with family members, support the process of all paperwork and then monitor former detainees to ensure they keep all of their police and/or court dates.

One of our Paralegals for Freetown, Sia, has recently provided support to Amity (29) and Workay (48) who have been released from the Freetown female correctional centre (all names in this case study have been changed).

Domestic Violence against women remains rife in Sierra Leone. As the more vulnerable sex, and in a society where women are often seen as inferior, it is not unusual for relatives to be violent towards women and girls. For a generation that lived through the war years, violence is often resorted to far too quickly, to solve petty disputes. This is found to be the case of both men and women, with  AdvocAid supporting numerous cases where women are accused of violence.

AdvocAid’s paralegal, Sia, met Amity and Workay at the Freetown Magistrate Court lock-up, on the offence of Domestic Violence – they were accused of using abusive language towards the complainant – a relative. They were imprisoned for two weeks for this offence.

Two weeks away from their children and livelihoods for abusive language!

Amity lived with her brother, aunt – Workay – and Workay’s husband Mus. During the Ebola crisis, Mus’s business suffered tragically, plunging the family further into poverty. The argument arose out of Mus, the complainant, saying he could no longer look after Amity and her brother, due to his failing business, and that they could no longer live there. Amity and Workay subsequently had a verbal fight with Mus, who reported them to the police.

Living in poverty, they had no one to hire a lawyer for them. This is where AdvocAid stepped in being able to complete the required paperwork to secure bail for both defendants.

Sia also arranged mediation between the family, agreeing a meeting between both sides with mediators including AdvocAid’s Programme Manager and Legal Officer. The complainant realised the need to take his own responsibility for situations, without running to the police.

During follow up, Sia learnt that the complainant decided to withdraw the matter from court.

Whilst such family issues may seem trivial on the surface, they’re not uncommon in Sierra Leone. Many family members turn one another into the police for small family disputes, but such actions result in women remaining behind bars for weeks on end, before there is any intervention. This leaves them unable to support their family, forced into terrible conditions in prison, and often when innocent.

It was reported by one of AdvocAid’s partners, Timap for Justice, that in Sierra Leone, over half the people in jail have not been convicted of any crime.

It is only with the intervention of organisations like AdvocAid, that women like Amity and Workay can be released for issues as small as abusive language.

Thank you for supporting AdvocAid’s project to provide Legal Aid to Women in prison in Sierra Leone. If you’d like to make a recurring donation to this project to help us reach our target, we’d be extremely grateful.

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Lucee (from the back to protect her identity)
Lucee (from the back to protect her identity)

“I am what I am through AdvocAid. I can read…and design beads, which I can sell to earn a living for myself”.

On behalf of all of the women we have supported over the past few months, we’d like to say a huge thank you for your ongoing support of AdvocAid’s work. A core component of what AdvocAid does in Sierra Leone, is to provide welfare items to women in Correctional Centres. The conditions in which they live are often deplorable, and as part of our remit to ensure human rights are upheld, we believe these women should have the bare necessities to be able to live.

A standard package that is provided to women includes: one cotton lappa (large piece of material wrapped around like a skirt), slippers, bathing/laundry soap, large toothpaste, toothbrush, Vaseline, knickers, sanitary pads, gari (a popular flour made from cassava tubers) and sugar. 

Since our last report, we have given these packs to seven women in Port Loko, three women in Kono and 26 women in Kenema. We have also provided 13 women in Makeni with milk, sugar and agidie porrridge provisions.

As well as supporting women in correctional centres, we ensure their children have basic provisions as well. Since our last report, we have given one welfare package to a mother with a baby. The baby pack consists of: Baby clothes, a dozen nappies, baby oil, baby Vaseline, baby shampoo a feeding bottle and baby powder. These packages are put together and distributed by our Social Worker.

One lady who has recently benefitted from an AdvocAid welfare package is Lucee (name changed to protect identity). Lucee is 19 years old and was recently released from Freetown’s Female Correctional Centre.

One of AdvocAid’s paralegals first met Lucee in 2013, where she was being detained under the accusation of murdering her boyfriend. She stayed in prison awaiting trial for two years, where she had no representation, visitors or support.

In Sierra Leone, the provisions in prison are almost non-existent, so detainees depend on visits from their friends and family to have any clothes, washing and sanitary items as well as medical supplies. With no visitors, Lucee didn't have any of these.

AdvocAid has supported Lucee in a number of ways, including providing her with basic welfare items including those listed above. Lucee also attended literacy and numeracy classes run by AdvocAid and our partner EducAid - to support Lucee’s learning, we provided her with a pen, pencil, ruler, book and reading books. AdvocAid also provided Lucee with a Lawyer who dealt with her case from the beginning to end; she was discharged on 28 July.

Lucee had never been to school; she was illiterate, as are over 80% of women in Sierra Leone. With AdvocAid’s support, she attended literacy and numeracy classes and gained bead making skills.

When Lucee was released, the first thing she did was walk proudly into the AdvocAid office with her Literacy certificate. Lucee is now optimistic about her future, and is looking to start working as a petty trader: “I am what I am through AdvocAid. I can read…and design beads, which I can sell to earn a living for myself”.

It is only with the support of people like you, that we can ensure women’s time in Correctional Centres is rehabilitative. We work to ensure their human and legal rights are upheld behind bars, and that they’re provided with an education and skills to make them stronger, and equal members of society upon release.

If you’d like to continue supporting this project, please consider making a donation today, and we can ensure more women like Lucee have a brighter future ahead of them. Thank you.

Women receiving welfare packages
Women receiving welfare packages

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Organization Information

AdvocAid

Location: Freetown, Western Region - Sierra Leone
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @advocaid
Project Leader:
Simitie Lavaly
Freetown, Western Area Sierra Leone

Funded Project!

Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
   

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