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Legal Needs of Vulnerable People: A Study in Azerbaijan, Mali, Rwanda, Egypt and Bangladesh

By: Martin Gramatikov, Jin Ho Verdonschot

This 2010 paper analyzes the legal needs of groups of vulnerable people in five developing countries: Azerbaijan, Mali, Rwanda, Egypt and Bangladesh. The paper’s first objective is to explore the legal problems which are encountered by vulnerable people in these societies. Second, the study looks at the impact of these problems on the lives of the disadvantaged groups. Third, this aims to find out how the vulnerable people respond to existing legal problems.  A combination of quantitative and qualitative methods were employed to study the experiences of beneficiaries of non-profit legal aid providers in the five countries.

The major finding of the study is that the vulnerable people experience clusters of legal problems which are most often triggered by dysfunctional relationships. Rarely the disadvantaged experience single instances of legal problems. Their lives are entangled into complex chains of problems. When important relationships break down the vulnerable people often see a looming wave of interrelated legal problems. Understanding the interconnectedness between the problems and their causal effects is key for the design of intervention programs and access to justice policies. Legal problems also occur throughout foreseeable life stages. At different stages of their lives, vulnerable people are more likely to experience the negative impact of particular legal problems. Another finding is that urgent and overwhelming legal problems present distinguishable ‘cover’ effects. People and specifically vulnerable people who have limited coping capacities are likely to focus on imminent problems at the expense of less threatening issues. Learning how to deal with cover effects might have important implications for access to justice research and policies.