An investigation of legal aid's contribution to quality of life of people living with and affected by HIV : the case of UGANET
The research was conducted to investigate the contribution of legal aid to the improvement of the conditions and quality of life of persons living with and affected by HIV. The study involved ten (10) legal aid beneficiaries who received legal aid from UGANET between 2008 and 2011. In addition to these, five (5) Local Council leaders from villages of the targeted beneficiaries were engaged in the study. Also targeted by the study were four (4) legal officers from UGANET. The researcher was guided by four research questions that were derived from the objectives of the study. These questions were the following; What complaints of human rights violations does UGANET register from persons living with and affected by HIV?; What strategies does UGANET use to respond to the complaints received from persons living with and affected by HIV; What effects have UGANET interventions had on beneficiaries?; and What challenges does UGANET face in providing legal aid to persons living with and affected by HIV? The research was conducted by the help of a case study design. UGANET was used as the case study for the investigation. The research findings revealed that UGANET registers various human rights violations from people living with and affected by HIV. These include; property grabbing, maintenance, child neglect and abuse, threatening violence, cases for custody, inheritance matters, land disputes, domestic violence and cases of unlawful detention. These rights are mainly violated by men but also by other categories of perpetrators such as relatives of deceased husbands, mothers, step-mothers and government structures such as Rapid Response Unit and Uganda Prisons. To address the human rights violations reported to by people living with and affected by HIV, UGANET uses legal support and protection, research, advocacy and policy influencing, social accountability and policy monitoring programs as strategies to address complaints of human rights violations reported by people living with and affected by HIV. The provision of legal aid has made possible the re-union of families that would otherwise have fallen apart; Legal aid has ensured the recovery of property for mostly women beneficiaries by enforcing property and inheritance rights; and finally, legal aid contributes to the improvement of the quality of life of persons living with and affected by HIV by making them aware of their rights. The gap however in the contribution of legal aid is that many of the people who need legal aid are neither aware of their rights nor of the existence of legal aid service providers. This prevents them from seeking to protect these rights. Thus it is recommended to UGANET advocacy department to raise awareness of their existence among the indigent; it is also recommended to Uganda’s Ministry of Justice to make quality legal aid accessible for all poor and vulnerable citizens in the country; and it is recommended to donors to consider funding legal aid for persons living with and affected by HIV. Through funding legal aid Donors can contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of persons living with and affected by HIV.