Legal Aid and the cross-cutting goals of SDGs | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 17, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 17, 2019

People's Voice

Legal Aid and the cross-cutting goals of SDGs

The entire concept of Sustainable Development Goals is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. And legal aid aspires to help and indeed possesses the inherent knack to help SDGs get realised. SDGs are generally perceived as goals that have the potential of bolstering a wide range of economic, social and cultural rights. However, there are certain Goals (for instance, Goal nos. 5, 10, 16) that prima facie speak the language of civil and political rights. Access to justice, gender equality and reduction of inequality in general mostly have bearing on protecting a wide range of civil and political rights.

An interesting area that these Goals touch upon (almost unknowingly so) are the indivisibility, interrelatedness as well as interdependence of and between civil and political and economic social and cultural rights. Elimination of poverty, hunger, gender inequality, lack of access to health and education while reducing consumption of our planet’s resources and ensuring the establishment of stable, accountable institutions are so connected with one another that one can rarely be achieved without the others by side and finally it is only a holistic approach that can help. Likewise this interrelatedness, each one of these goals too are invariably connected with all the other SDGs. All the SDGs together form an amorphous body of targets and access to justice as well as equality play the role of circumscribing an area for other goals to work by. Because without ensuring equality to pave the way for an inclusive society, achievement of any of the goals is nothing but a day dream.

Legal aid basically targets the community of the society which has lesser access to the formal channels of justice. From that perspective, legal aid empowers the most vulnerable section of the society and thereby works relentlessly in furtherance of the essence and spirit of a number of cross-cutting Goals of SDGs. Mostly what legal aid targets through targeting the vulnerable community with regard to their having access to justice, is Goal no. 16. The final wording of Goal no. 16 came as (following a series of OWG meetings in July 2014) ‘access to justice’ instead of the previously thought of words ‘rule of law’. Even though access to justice is narrower in its ambit than rule of law, it is the access that can in fact be brought in action through rule of law and legal aid can play the most effective role in this regard.

When access to justice becomes a privilege and not a right, available only to the upper strata of the society, it works against the spirit of an inclusive society that SDGs aim at establishing and furthermore, it works in a way that in effect keeps the vicious cycle of poverty in place by keeping the poor away from justice. Without legal aid, those living in poverty become more susceptible to facing hurdles and threats of exclusion from the public sphere and from their rights guaranteed by law as well as the Constitution. Therefore facilitation for ensuring adequate access to legal aid can literally reduce their likelihood of becoming and remaining in the vicious cycle of poverty and the snares of inequality.

It is not only the poor people that need legal assistance; it is also the women and children, who happen to be the most vulnerable among the vulnerables in a number of societies. Women and children need affirmative actions and moreso, they need access to justice for them to get their voices heard and to come out of the periphery of exclusion. Matrimonial conflicts give birth to conflict-ridden families and thereby contribute to a conflict-prone society in general at large. Matrimonial conflicts in patriarchal settings also pave way for domestic violence, cruelty towards women and children. The people who fall victims to these sort of conflicts, need the society by their side to get off of them and to get a sense of inclusion in the society.

The infliction of physical and psychological harm, financial constraints, insecurity that marital discords endow women with, breed a sense of everlasting trauma that bars them from claiming equality in general. Legal aid ensure that those women who cannot otherwise afford legal advice or representation by a lawyer in a court of law get a scheme of assistance with regard to their legal issues in a multidimensional way when the needs and crises arise. This assistance can pave the way for realisation for the goal of gender equality and reduction of inequality.

Implementation is a particularly high hurdle for SDGs because of the very many institutions that stand in its way and the players of different roles within the continuum. Amongst all these hurdles the one scheme that really seems to peep through and provide a ray of hope is legal aid, at least in terms of ensuring people’s access to justice. It is generally hoped that with the passage of time, as we move forward, we certainly will get to know more about where the hurdles lie and we may then take nascent yet better as well as adequate steps towards inclusivity in the society (ies) across the world.

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