A voice for the voiceless: promoting access to justice for deaf PWDs

January 16, 2020

Bashir Diriye, Field Officer with Nomadic Assistance for Peace and Development (NAPAD), works towards promoting access to justice for the poor and marginalised in Mandera County // Photo: Nicholas Wilson/UNDP Kenya

Mandera, the capital of Mandera County, is at the very edge of Kenya’s Northern Frontier. Touching the borders of both Ethiopia and Somalia, a heavy security presence reflects the prevalence of cross-border conflict in the immediate area — particularly involving fundamentalist militant groups. Speaking to locals around town, the majority of whom are ethnic Somalis, there’s a feeling that the instability, curfews and restrictions on movement that come with this may have dimmed the voice of inclusivity and public participation.

In these circumstances, when it comes to marginalised groups such as women and children, basic needs are not always met: Mandera County has by far the highest rate of maternal mortality in Kenya, and the lowest rate of full child vaccination.[1] Among people with disabilities (PWDs), studies have indicated that special education is often lacking and that injustices suffered by PWDs can be missed by the legal system.[2] Access to justice for these groups is a challenge across Kenya, but especially so in Mandera as an area with both serious security issues, and entrenched religious and ethnic social structures.

Abdul Ali Abdullah of Jamia Training Institute oversees a sign language training for NAPAD paralegals, building their capacity to help the deaf access justice // Photo: Nicholas Wilson/UNDP Kenya

"I’ve been working with disabled children a long time, especially the deaf… we talk about this in terms of the voice of the voiceless, because if anyone crosses them, they can’t speak out. There are no interpreters in Mandera: when it comes to cases involving the deaf, especially rape and defilement, very few of these cases ever come to court." — Abdul Ali Abdullah

On the day we visit, a 10-day training on sign language for paralegals who operate across in Mandera North and Mandera East Sub-Counties is concluding. The trainer, Abdul Ali Abdullah, tells us how he has come across the abuse and neglect of deaf children and the lack of understanding of their specific needs. Whether in a police station, court of law, hospital or even a school, deaf PWDs struggle to access services in the same way as able-bodied people, despite the fact that they have rights enshrined in the constitution to do so.

Anima Ronow Ugas — one such paralegal working with Nomadic Assistance for Peace and Development (NAPAD) — shows that she has grasped the training quickly, fluently signing a long passage about empowering PWDs on their rights. Ms. Ugas explains that working with rural communities as a female paralegal can be challenging in Mandera, amidst a complex context of religious norms, paternalism and Somali clan hierarchies.

Amina Ronow Ugas, a NAPAD paralegal, demonstrates her newly-acquired signing skills. NAPAD paralegals underwent a 10-day sign language training supported by UNDP through the Amkeni Wakenya PLEAD programme // Photo: Nicholas Wilson/UNDP Kenya

“You say ‘this thing is supposed to be done’ and the men contradict you and say ‘you’re not the one to say this’… You just settle with them — you’re not going to be the only person to have that opinion, so you try to influence them together.” — Amina Ronow Ugas

With support from UNDP under the Amkeni Wakenya CSO facility, NAPAD has trained 6 paralegals on the Legal Aid Act 2016 and to use sign language to serve deaf PWDs; additionally a legal aid centre has been erected in Neboi, on the edge of Mandera, to bring legal aid and assistance direct to the community. NAPAD have a number of other activities planned, including the production of braille information materials on legal aid, radio shows to sensitize the local population and trainings of councils of elders on human rights-based approaches to traditional dispute resolution.

Going to the grassroots is at the heart of community-led access to justice. UNDP supported the construction of a legal aid centre in Neboi on the edge of Mandera Town as part of its partnership with NAPAD // Photo: Adesh Macan/NAPAD

There’s a long way to go to address the uniquely challenging situation for deaf PWDs in Mandera. Noor Abdow, another NAPAD paralegal, tells us how the only special education school in the County catering for deaf children closed some years ago due to financial issues, and how deaf children can suffer in silence when it comes to issues such as child marriage and FGM, which are all too common in the region. Mr. Abdow regrets that insecurity hinders reporting of these issues, saying the need for assistance is simply too great not to be told more widely.

‘Leaving no one behind’ is at the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: NAPAD, through partnership with UNDP, is working to fulfil that pledge.


[1] KNBS — Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014

[2] KNHCR — ‘A Briefing Paper on Implementing Article 12 of the CRPD Regarding Legal Capacity in Kenya: A Study Carried Out in Mandera and Taita Taveta Counties’, 2016


About UNDP in Kenya:

Under the Country Programme Document (CPD) 2018–22, UNDP leverages innovative approaches working under three pillars of: Governance, Peace and Security; Inclusive Growth and Structural Transformation; and Environmental Sustainability, Climate Change and Resilience.

Haki Kwa Wote (Cadaalada Dhaman) [Justice for All] is a project run by NAPAD and funded by the European Union under the UNDP Amkeni Wakenya CSO facility. This project is part of the Programme for Legal Empowerment and Aid Delivery in Kenya (PLEAD), a partnership involving the Government of Kenya, European Union, United Nations and civil society, towards improving the delivery of justice services and use of alternatives to imprisonment.

Disclaimer: This story is based on first person reports and interviews conducted during a monitoring and evaluation visit in Mandera County, October 2019. The opinions expressed in this story are solely those of the interviewed participants and do not necessarily represent the views of affiliated donors or organisations.