An ingenious approach to conflict resolution

Violence against womanProthom Alo illustration

"I won't ask for money for my children's upbringing when I have a job. But right now, I'm helpless.” Mala said this when Pradeep refused to pay the money. (Mala and Pradeep are pseudonyms)

Mala and Pradeep’s relationship deteriorated after their child was born with disability. Pradeep was resentful toward his child. 

It became apparent as the boy grew older that Jitu (also a pseudonym) had difficulties speaking and walking. Mala rejected Pradeep's suggestion to place the boy in a special home. Consequently, tension in the household grew and eventually they were living apart. Pradeep remarried and started a new life, refusing to take responsibility for their son and Mala. Mala took shelter at her father's home.

Mala then complained to the BRAC’s legal aid clinic. Through alternative dispute resolution (ADR), the issue was settled in December 2021, and it Pradeep agreed to provide money every month toward his son's care. He did not, however, pay the money eventually.

Mala once again complained to the legal aid clinic in March 2022 to regain her son's rights. Eventually, attempts were made to get in contact with Pradeep for the second time. Pradeep refused to assume his son's responsibility during the ADR. The officer-SELP continued explaining the matter to him until he consented. Thereafter, he started paying for his child's care with two thousand taka each month. Mala, in the meantime, has graduated. She is currently looking for a job to secure quality healthcare for her four-year-old child.

Due to high costs, drawn-out processes, and accessibility issues, many people in Bangladesh, especially those who are financially vulnerable or live in remote areas, lack the courage to seek legal assistance from the formal judicial system. Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms that are more reasonably priced, accessible, and attentive to the needs of people living in underprivileged areas are becoming increasingly important to solve these issues. As a result, many people choose the informal judicial system, like Mala, to resolve their conflicts.

ADR is carried out following all the legal requirements and guidelines. In this procedure, the opposing parties cooperate voluntarily and mutually with a mediator to settle their conflicts. The approach has demonstrated success in resolving disputes fairly and effectively, fostering social cohesion, and fortifying ties within the community. Rather than focusing on punishing the offender, this approach prioritizes the restoration of the harm caused by the offence.

BRAC's Alternative Dispute Resolution initiative started in 1998 for family issues, notably dowries and domestic abuse. Based on the initial success, BRAC expanded the initiative to address a wider range of issues, including petty criminal cases and disputes over land and property. Serving millions of individuals in Bangladesh and other nations, it has grown to be one of the biggest and most effective initiatives in the world. BRAC's ADR has been recognized internationally as an innovative approach to resolving disputes outside the formal justice system.

In comparison to formal legal systems, both Internationally and nationally, this ADR initiative offers significant benefits. People who reside in isolated or rural locations and would not have the resources to afford legal expenses will find it much more accessible in the first place. Second, disagreements can be settled far more quickly than in the court system, which can take years after years. Third, since it promotes cooperation and conversation rather than conflict and antagonism, it is frequently more successful at preserving relationships between the parties.

ADR procedure is grounded in regional customs and culture, which might support the preservation and reinforcement of shared values. People are directly involved in resolving conflicts and upholding social order, which fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility for the activities of the community

Currently, the process is being carried out in 31 districts of Bangladesh through the BRAC Social Empowerment and Legal Protection Programme. It helps survivors of domestic violence get rid of abusive relationships and gain their maintenance and dower. Additionally, it empowers many women to pursue their legal rights. Furthermore, it has successfully lessened the pressure on Bangladesh's formal justice system.

The ADR process typically starts when both parties agree to sit together in the presence of  SELP officials. Furthermore, the ADR mechanism does not only include mediation but also actively monitors and follows up with the client for a certain period to ensure that the mediation outcome is achieved. Through this mechanism, the BRAC-SELP program has indirectly contributed to diminishing poverty and women's empowerment (SDGs 1 and 5).

Through its 240 legal aid clinics, the BRAC SELP program provides free ADR support to women in disadvantaged areas. ADR was used to settle 11,235 claims between January and December of 2022, and 263,523,260 BDT were recovered as inheritance, maintenance, and dower during this time. This is a significant achievement in protecting the rights of women and children who suffer abuse and discrimination. The money that was retrieved gave these survivors possibilities for long-term employment that helped them escape poverty. As a result, it also enables female survivors to have control over their finances and other resources that boost their confidence.

Sometimes, after open communication and thoughtful consideration, both parties have come to a consensus on restoring their conjugal life, aiming to overcome past challenges and strengthen their bonding. 

Moreover, the ADR procedure is grounded in regional customs and culture, which might support the preservation and reinforcement of shared values. People are directly involved in resolving conflicts and upholding social order, which fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility for the activities of the community. Additionally, it enables individuals to gain knowledge from one another's perspectives and experiences, which can promote mutual respect and understanding between different social groups.

* Sonia Farjana is Manager, Communication, Social Empowerment and Legal Protection, BRAC Email: [email protected]