Anila's Journey to Justice and Hope
August 2, 2023
At a tender age of 22, Anila found herself trapped in the clutches of a heart-wrenching nightmare.
The weight of her shattered world bore heavily upon her chest.
Two innocent lives, her 6-month-old baby and her 2-year-old son, now seemed distant, cruelly taken away by her husband and his family.
Forced out of her own home, Anila felt like a vessel fractured beyond repair, overwhelmed by grief and despair that seemed impossible to contain.
The thoughts of her defenceless 6-month-old daughter, left in the hands of those who showed no mercy, tormented her incessantly. Four days had passed without her baby receiving the nourishment and warmth only a mother's embrace could provide.
I learned about Anila's story while our partners were convened to discuss the challenges and results of a project implemented by UNDP and its partners. The project aimed to provide unhindered free legal aid to vulnerable communities in several municipalities across the country.
Her story touched me deeply, prompting me to personally meet with Anila. With tears continuously running down her cheeks, she shared with me her sad story.
It all began with a seemingly innocuous connection on Facebook, culminating in a harrowing marriage filled with torment. Her husband, once a family figure, had undergone a troubling transformation, deriving pleasure from her suffering.
Accusations of neglecting their children, disparaging her culinary skills, and denouncing her tattoos—symbols of identity and freedom—became relentless weapons of abuse. His family only made things worse by standing at the side of their son even amid scenes of violence.
In her most vulnerable state, six months into her pregnancy, she endured severe beatings from her husband. Though she mustered the courage to report the abuse to the authorities, the excruciatingly slow court process prolonged her anguish. Seeking refuge, she temporarily left her home to shield herself from further harm. Her husband’s family forcefully kept her children.
"I had to leave to let things calm a bit," Anila recalled, her voice trembling with the weight of her experiences. "But when I went back to see my children, I was denied access to them, even to my breastfeeding six-month-old daughter."
Desperate for support, she turned to the Free Legal Aid Center, where Anton Koca one of the lawyers of the Center offered solace and guidance. The centre’s adept lawyers facilitated her interactions with the police, meticulously preparing essential documentation and securing a court date.
“Anila’s case is one of the many domestic violence instances that we have provided support for throughout the years at our Free Legal Aid Center. It has been an exceedingly challenging case for me, both professionally and personally, as a citizen of Shkodra and a father of two. Nevertheless, I am profoundly grateful to Anila for her courage to stand up and fight back, and to my colleagues from the shelter, the police, and civil society organizations for their invaluable partnership and collaboration in rescuing Anila from this abusive relationship and safeguarding her and her children from further harm. The Center in Shkodra, now under the administration of the Ministry of Justice, offers free legal aid services in civil, administrative, and criminal cases to all those without financial means or belonging to a special vulnerable category. On average, we handle 25 cases per month, providing support to vulnerable women and men who seek legal advice and assistance on issues such as domestic violence, welfare rights, property rights, housing matters, employment law, consumer disputes, and more”, says Anton.
With solid support from the Free Legal Aid Center, Anila summoned her strength to champion her rights in court, fervently seeking a divorce and full custody of her cherished children. Determined to break free from the chains of abuse, she clung to the vision of a hopeful future for her little ones.
"I am immensely grateful that the Free Legal Aid Center helped me prepare the documentation, file for divorce, and regain custody of my children," Anila voiced her gratitude. "They bestowed upon me hope and a chance to reconstruct my life."
During our conversation, a poignant scene unfolded at the shelter as her two children were brought in. The little boy wept, seeking solace in his mother's arms, while the 6-month-old baby cried, likely yearning for nourishment. Thanks to the Free Legal Aid Centre’s efforts, they were reunited with their mother, emphasizing the criticality of a breastfeeding mother's presence in a baby's life.
As she awaits the court's verdict, Anila clings to hope, envisioning a future where she can provide for her children, fortified by the unwavering support of her family. With newfound determination, she proclaims her transformation from victim to resilient survivor.
The Office in Shkoder, established as a pilot in 2018 with support of UNDP, continues to provide the much-needed free legal aid to people who cannot afford it. More than a 1000 women and men from vulnerable communities have benefitted so far.
"Expanding Free Legal Aid Services to Women and Men in Albania," project is funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation and implemented by UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and civil society organizations.
The main goal of the project is to strengthen the free legal aid system, supporting the country's Justice Reform, institutional coordination in the justice sector, and the implementation of constitutional provisions on fundamental rights. With a keen focus on enhancing access to justice for all at the local level, it aligns with the Government's key priority in advancing its EU Integration Agenda.
Twelve free legal aid centers in all twelve regions of the country have been established and have so far provided free legal aid services to over 10,000 vulnerable women and men.
If you reside in Shkoder and find yourself in need of free legal aid, please know that the Office is readily available to assist you. UNDP and partners are working to provide unhindered access to justice to those who cannot afford it and guarantee a human right.
Anila's story left an indelible impact on my heart. My earnest call to all: Refuse to tolerate any form of violence. The moment it transpires, report it. As human beings, we are entitled to a life free from violence, and we must stand together to safeguard this fundamental right.