Maimuna Hussein (not her real name) is a middle-aged mother of three children living in Tarbaj town in Wajir County and married to one Hussein Ahmed (not his real name). In the last two years, Ahmed has abandoned his family due to marital tensions and neglected his children thereby denying them their right to parental responsibility and maintenance. Maimuna who is poor and illiterate had no knowledge of where to seek formal redress. Her previous attempt of seeking justice from the local council of elders yielded no tangible fruit, ostensibly because most of the members (all are male) are related to Ahmed in one way or the other.
When a team of paralegals working under the Arid Lands Development Focus (ALDEF), a Wajir-based NGO organized a legal aid clinic in Tarbaj town, Maimuna heard about it from other women and courageously decided to seek assistance. She attended the legal aid clinic, where she explained her woes to the trained paralegals. The paralegals took up Mainmuna’s case and referred the matter to the area Chief (an administrative officer under the National Government) and Children’s Officer. Soon after, the two officials summoned Ahmed and Maimuna and held an informal hearing at the Legal Aid Center that was recently established by ALDEF in Tarbaj town.
Ahmed could not provide justifiable reasons for neglecting his children and refusal to provide maintenance for his family. The Children’s Officer reminded him of his parental responsibilities as required by the Childrens’ Act of 2000. When Ahmed attempted to invoke long-held cultural traditions that gave men the discretion to decide when and how to provide parental support and maintenance to their estranged families, the area Chief and Children’s Officer would not hear of it. The Children’s Officer reiterated that parental responsibility is mandatory, not negotiable under the law. At the risk of being arraigned in court,
Ahmed opted to settle the dispute and agreed to pay Kshs. 9,000 per month towards the upkeep of the family. The area Chief and Childrens’ officer directed that the payments should be made to Maimuna via the Legal Aid Centre and that the ALDEF paralegals should keep proper records on the same for verification by all parties concerned. From the month of October 2020to date, Mainmuna has been receiving the monthly payments without delay and is very happy that she is now able to provide for her family. Her story has spread within the Tarbaj area and more women experiencing similar problems are now streaming to the Legal Aid Centre, seeking legal assistance from ALDEF paralegals.
As the world commemorates World Social Justice Day, the pastoralist women of Tarbaj Sub-County are happy that through the interventions of ALDEF, justice has finally come home.
Arid Lands Development Focus is one of the grantees supported by UNDP Kenya through the Amkeni Wakenya Project. ALDEF is implementing a project titled “Promoting access to legal aid and assistance for the poor and marginalized communities in Wajir County” under the broader European Union-funded Programme for Legal Empowerment and Aid Delivery in Kenya (PLEAD). The project is targeting communities in Wajir North, Wajir South, and Tarbaj sub-counties of Wajir County in Northern Kenya, providing legal aid and awareness to the vulnerable and poor populations. In addition, the project provides capacity building to key actors in the formal administration of the justice system as well as members of alternative justice systems.