China’s 1,760 state or locally-funded legal aid centers, ranging from provincial to county levels, have played an important role in protecting the rights of women who need legal help but cannot afford to pay for it.
These centers handled more than 60,000 lawsuits from January to May, said Gong Xiaobing, deputy director of the Legal Aid Center under the Ministry of Justice Wednesday.
During the opening ceremony of a two-day seminar, delegates from legal aid centers at different levels recounted their achievements and pointed out the difficulties they are confronted with, and also discussed the further development of the system.
China’s first non-governmental organization for providing legal aid to women and conducting research in the field is Peking University’s Center for Women’s Law Studies and Legal Services, which was founded in 1995.
Gong sang high praise for the center’s work over the past five years.
The center has handled 260 cases for poor women from 15 municipalities, provinces and autonomous regions including Beijing, Heilongjiang and Xinjiang, according to Guo Jianmei, executive director of the center.
Guo said women’s familial rights, their personal rights and their rights in the workplace are the three most frequently violated in the cases they have handled.
The center has provided free legal counsel to more than 7,000 women clients by manning telephone hotlines, responding to written correspondence and providing personal consultations.
Great progress has also been made in China’s rural areas.
The Women’s Legal Service Center in Hebei Province’s Qianxi County, in north China, has set up 17 consulting offices and 417 self-help groups offering legal advice to women in the area under the county’s jurisdiction.
A well-organized and effectively publicized legal service network from county to village level has been formed for the protection of women in rural areas, according to Wang Shuzhen of the center.
Since its founding in 1995, the center has provided consultation to more than 7,200 women and dealt with 405 cases involving poor women who needed legal help.
They also work to improve women’s consciousness of the law and have provided training in self-defence to 8,150 people in 163 classes.
“Our goal is to have legal aid centers wherever there are people’s courts,” said Gong.
Lack of funds has restricted the development of legal aid. Gong said that they will explore new channels to seek more financial support in 2001.
China’s legal aid centers have received financial assistance from the United Nations, the United States, Canada and the Britain.
Gong encouraged more non-governmental organizations to get involved in legal aid work to help women in need.
The Legal Aid Center of the Ministry of Justice will train personnel for its branches, and strengthen instruction and supervision in local centers.
(China Daily 12/28/2000)