The Joy of Helping Children in Need of Protection

Para-legal workers in Lao PDR are being trained to provide support to children victims of violence and in conflict with the law

The Joy of Helping Children in Need of Protection
UNICEF Laos/2018
14 August 2018

Para-legal workers in Lao PDR are being trained to provide support to children victims of violence and in conflict with the law

Finding a job as a lawyer after graduating from Law School wasn’t easy for Khamheng Phannivong, 31 years old, thus when he came to know that the Legal Aid clinic in Nongsoghong, Saythany district in Vientiane capital was looking for village volunteers he did not think it twice and applied for the job. Providing legal support and assistance for people seemed like a dreamed job for him and luckily for him and for the people in this community his dream came true. Khamheng started to work as a village volunteer at the Legal Aid clinic in February 2017.

“As a volunteer, I provide legal support and counseling to woman and children who are victims of violence, including sexual violence,” he explains with proud. “Many people in my community, especially those from ethnic minority groups, have low education levels and very limited knowledge about the laws. Before the Legal Aid clinic open its doors, they barely knew what to do or where to seek support when they were in trouble. Now they know that there are volunteers like me ready to support them.”

Since Khamheng joined the clinic, he has provided legal advice and assistance for more than ten cases, some of them involving children.

“The work we do is very dynamic and diverse. I have organized mediation sessions which are conducted by the Village Mediation Unit, I meet people and gather information required to write reports that are sent to the lawyers, I also follow up on cases with the Police or the Prosecutor and provide updates to the concerned people, and accompany victims to the court,” he states.

These services are on demand and people from other communities have come to know about the role of these village volunteers by word-of-mouth. “We have even seen people from other provinces coming to our Legal Aid clinic seeking advice,” explains the para-legal worker.

With support from UNICEF Australia, UNICEF provided the training for the local authorities and village para-legal volunteers on legal and social assistance to children in contact with the law. This has greatly contributed to build the capacity of community members, especially the village volunteers, to better protect children’s rights and contributing also to improve coordination with village leaders and other institutions for child protection services.

“I am learning day by day as I have been given the opportunity to attend trainings and workshop to acquire new skills. I am also learning from the people we work with and from other colleagues and this is very encouraging,” Khamheng says. “I would like to become a real lawyer in the future. That is my dream and I am doing my best to make this dream come true.”

UNICEF has been also instrumental in forging a partnership between the Secretariat for Juvenile Justice Coordination Committee and the Commission for Advancement of Women Mothers and Children (CAWMC) to establish synergies and join efforts. Although initially the CAWMC project provided legal aid for women victims of domestic violence, now the two organizations are working together and leveraging resources by merging legal aid support and services, and extending the support to women to also cover children in need of protection.