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Empowered Hlaing Thar Yar Resident Brings Paralegal Services to Community

Children, toys, and teaching aid posters fill a regular house located in Hlaing Thar Yar Township (Yangon), home to hundreds of thousands of residents, many of whom are migrants in search of a livelihood in Yangon. Here, seventy year old Daw Myint Yee runs a nursery for twenty-eight children with her daughters, who have been certified by the Department of Social Welfare, Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement (MSWRR).

Daw Myint Yee does more than feed and teaches children – she is also a trained community-based paralegal, working on women’s and child rights issues with Ratana Metta Organisation (RMO). With the support of MyJustice, an access to justice program funded by the European Union and implemented by the British Council, RMO provides legal awareness trainings and legal aid for women and children in the 20 wards and 9 groups of villages (19 villages) of Hlaing Thar Yar Township.

Daw Myint Yee initially joined community meetings to become more aware of the law, but soon joined a community support group (CSG) organised by RMO, the cornerstone of the programme they are rolling out in the community with the support of MyJustice. The CSGs are comprised of 30 members (mostly women) who completed a three day capacity building and referral system training. The CSG members identify cases in the community where children and women are affected and link them to RMO, helping survivors navigate the police station and the courts as well as helping them with their interactions with the officers of the Department of Social Welfare. The most common issues that that they deal with relate to sexual harassment, kidnapping, wrongful confinement, sexual assault and rape of minors.

Salaid Ye Win Tun, the Project Manager from RMO, explained that CSG members are selected if they show a strong interest in legal aid and enthusiasm to help people facing legal issues in community. “We are taking care of women’s and children’s criminal cases in compliance with the programme criteria. If the victims do not meet our programme criteria, we refer them to other partner organisations working for legal aid in Hlaing Thar Yar Township. There are ten partner organizations working for legal aid in this Township and networking with our programme,” he said.

Today, Daw Myint Yee refers clients to legal aid centres, accompanies them to court or medical check-ups for evidence, or directly advises them on their rights. One client said, “Actually I am really afraid of going to court. Yes, I am timid. When Daw Myint Yee accompanies me to file [my case] at court and explains my legal rights, I am confident in my case.” Another mother was “ecstatic” after Daw Myint Yee helped secure her child’s release after he was falsely accused of a crime.

Daw Myint Yee said, “I can stand for the poor and vulnerable people. I am really proud of being a paralegal because I can help my community. I want to keep it up because people are asking me to help them and I am happy to do this work.”

The toddlers at her nursery have no idea how far their caregiver’s assistance goes.