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Leitner Center Conducts Domestic Violence Legal-Aid Clinic in Malawi

From November 14 – 18, 2011, students and faculty from the Leitner Center’s Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic, in partnership with paralegals from the Malawi-based Center for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (CHREAA), administered a mobile legal-aid clinic for survivors of domestic violence in Chaweta Village in the Blantyre District of southern Malawi.  Leitner Clinic students Miranda Galindo (’12), Rebecca Iwerks (’13), and Kali Peterson (’13) provided direct legal assistance to almost 30 clients.  The students applied for and obtained court-mandated orders of protection for domestic violence survivors, accompanied clients to police stations to report abuse, conducted mediations, and successfully referred clients to magistrate court.    In addition, the students conducted a series of Know-Your-Rights presentations on Malawi’s Anti-Domestic Violence Act for hundreds of community members and created and distributed illustrative brochures on domestic violence in the local language Chichewa to almost 800 individuals.

Traditional leaders formally opened the clinic with a welcoming ceremony that included nearly 150 community members from surrounding villages.  A local dance troupe performed a piece they composed especially for the occasion, which depicted the community’s rejection of domestic violence.  “The community response was so positive. People were receptive to the Leitner/CHREAA team’s message about the need to stop domestic violence,” noted Fordham Law student Kali Peterson.

An estimated one out of every three Malawian women has experienced domestic violence.  CHREAA and the Leitner Center offered their legal services free-of-charge, assisting clients experiencing domestic violence, as well as individuals with other family law issues, including child maintenance. CHREAA continues to conduct follow up on the cases.

The Leitner Clinic students’ Know-Your-Rights presentations on Malawi’s 2006 Anti-Domestic Violence Act emphasized the power of the wider community to end domestic violence. The Act provides that any physical, sexual, emotional/psychological, and financial abuse is illegal and punishable by law.  The students hoped that by directing their message to the wider community, the information would have a greater impact.  As Fordham Law Student Rebecca Iwerks noted, “Studies have shown that when a community stands up to domestic violence, rates of violence go down.”

CHREAA advertised the clinic through public announcements, banners, and radio adverts. Over the course of the week, Malawi radio and newspaper outlets interviewed the Leitner Clinic students about issues related to domestic violence.  Fordham Law Student Miranda Galindo said that her interview, which was broadcast on national Malawi radio, “allowed us the exceptional opportunity to help raise awareness about Malawi’s Anti-Domestic Violence Law.”

This is the fourth year of the Leitner Center-CHREAA partnership and the second year that the team has successfully conducted a joint mobile legal-aid clinic.  In 2010, CHREAA and the Leitner Center conducted a mobile legal-aid clinic focusing on witchcraft accusations and property grabbing, assisting over 80 clients with disputes.   “We cherish our partnership with CHREAA,” noted Prof. Chi Mgbako, director of the Leitner Clinic. “And we look forward to continued collaboration on issues of legal empowerment in Malawi,” added Clinical Teaching Fellow Katherine Glenn.


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Leitner Center for International Law and Justice
Fordham University School of Law
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Email: LeitnerCenter@law.fordham.edu
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