Challenges of Human Rights Literacy in Developing Countries: Lessons from South Africa and Bangladesh on Conducting Street Law for the School Students

Published date01 January 2018
Date01 January 2018
AuthorArpeeta Shams Mizan
Subject MatterArticles
Challenges of Human Rights Literacy
in Developing Countries: Lessons
from South Africa and Bangladesh on
Conducting Street Law for the School
Arpeeta Shams Mizan1
This article provides a comparative analysis of the experience, challenges and future prospects of Street
Law programmes as conducted in two developing countries: South Africa and Bangladesh. The Street Law
programmes in South Africa were initiated as a means towards developing democracy and an empowered
society, while in Bangladesh, Protidiner Ain started as a law clinic aimed at introducing law students to
social justice issues. Despite proving to be successful, the human rights literacy programmes in developing
countries have faced tremendous challenges: starting from the basic question of finding to surviving under
authoritarian government regimes. This article takes South Africa and Bangladesh as test cases and shows
how the socio-political reality and economic problems in developing countries affect such programmes
both positively and negatively. It also discusses the various stages Street Law went through before being
established and recognized as a tool for social justice. The challenges faced by the two countries have also
helped create some of the best practices for each other to be followed and further developed.
Aditi,* a student in eighth grade in a prominent school in Dhaka, one day saw four Apus and Bhaias2 in
their classroom during the last period. She found it strange that these young people, known as ‘Street
Lawyers’, would be discussing law with them. ‘Law is for boring advocates, why do we need it?’ she
thought. But lo! There was no lecture or lesson, but role plays, debates and storytelling! Who knew law
could be such fun? On the nal day of the one-week training, Aditi told the Street Lawyers that this
training changed her perception of law, and that she intended to become a lawyer after graduation.
* The name has been changed to protect anonymity of the student.
1 Lecturer of Law, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
2 Apu and Bhaia, respectively, are Bengali terms for addressing women and men who are older/senior, since in Bangladeshi society
the social norms require not calling seniors by names.
Asian Journal of Legal Education
5(1) 40–59
© 2017 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2322005817730149
Corresponding author:
Arpeeta Shams Mizan, Lecturer of Law, University of Dhaka, Dhaka 1000, Bangladesh.
Mizan 41
Nadia, a student in her second year of undergraduate studies in Dhaka, was struggling to study law:
memorizing lengthy notes, listening to bookish theory without understanding how they matter in real life,
memorizing decisions from unconnected cases, reproducing them in exam scripts, etc. She wondered
whether this was all that studying law entailed, and how any of this would make her a lawyer. Then one day,
she accompanied some friends to a Street Law training programme. After attending one session, she was
invigorated by the energetic atmosphere of the training—instead of talking about theories or old case laws,
the trainers were discussing everyday problems and showing how and which laws solved them. Now, when
this article is being written, as an INGO employee helping economic migrants, Nadia feels Street Law
helped her understand how studying law also entails how to apply it in order to help people.
Zoleka was studying to become an attorney in Durban, but she wanted to share her legal knowledge
with her village folks and did not know how to explain the complicated legal notions easily. In her final
year, she took the course on Street Law which taught her how to teach law in the layman’s language. She
conducted her sessions in her village in Natal more successfully than she had hoped.
These are real stories from Bangladesh and South Africa, where Street Law has redefined legal
education for countless people. Street Law, which had begun in the United States of America, a rich and
powerful country, has now become a powerful tool of social justice in both Bangladesh and South Africa,
two developing countries struggling to ensure social justice.
In my years as a Street Lawyer and Street Law coordinator, I heard numerous stories and examples of
South Africa as a model. Thus, when the opportunity arose, I welcomed it, to experience myself how
Street Law was operating at the institution which had brought the idea to Bangladesh: the University of
KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) under the leadership of Professor David McQuoid-Mason.
This article is a reflection and analysis of Street Law’s journey in two developing countries. It explores
how the two programmes converge and diverge, and what could Bangladesh learn from and contribute
to South Africa. The first part of the article briefly introduces the reader to the concept of Street Law; the
second and third parts describe the structure of Street Law and Protidiner Ain (as Street Law is known in
Bangladesh). The fourth part discusses the differences, the fifth part is about the challenges faced by
these countries and finally the sixth part reflects on the lessons the two countries can take to move
forward. A major share of the information presented in this article has been derived from my interviews
with the leading Street Law academicians and practitioners of Street Law in Bangladesh and South
Africa: Mizanur Rahman3 (Bangladesh), David McQuoid-Mason,4 Lindi Coetzee5 and Lloyd Lotz.6
Street Law: The Movement for Taking Law Closer to the Common
Street Law, very simply, is a legal literacy programme usually aimed at high school children, prisoners
and other vulnerable communities such as juvenile delinquents and community leaders. It empowers the
3 Professor of Comparative Law and Human Rights, University of Dhaka. Professor Rahman was among the first group of
academicians to introduce Law Clinic to Bangladeshi students, and later designed the Human Rights Summer School, a leading
human rights training programme as the executive director of ELCOP. He was the first academic to hold the position of chairman
of the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh (NHRC-BD) from 2011 to 2016.
4 Professor of Law, based at UKZN, and founder of the South African Street Law programme.
5 National Coordinator, Street Law South Africa Org., and Senior Lecturer, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port
Elizabeth, South Africa.
6 Lecturer of Law and Street Law Coordinator, UKZN, Durban, South Africa.

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