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Putting theory into practice: law students and laborers learn from each other

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undp-giang-4885Bac Giang, 12 July 2014 - "I’ll never forget this weekend. Seeing things in real life is very different to theory, and is much more complicated".

Mai Bich Ngoc is one of 12 students from the law faculty of the Ha Noi Foreign Trade University who joined their professors on an exciting summer project funded by UNDP. Last week they travelled to Dinh Tram Industrial Zones, Bac Giang Province to spend the weekend living with local families to hear more about their most pressing concerns. The experience has brought them much closer to the rural labourer’s everyday lives.

Viet Nam has achieved impressive economic growth over the past ten years, but Viet Nam’s justice services have struggled to keep pace with such rapid changes. In 2012 the UNDP justice index survey showed that socially disadvantaged groups such as women and laborers working in the industrial zones of Viet Nam find it much harder to access justice services than the general population.

While there are many reasons why the justice sector is not meeting their needs, one major barrier is the antiquated legal education system. Even when their academic understanding of the law is sound, Law School graduates often lack practical understanding of the realities of millions of ordinary Vietnamese citizens who seek legal services. This limits their ability to empathize with and advise their clients. At the same time public understanding of legal issues remains low with many people simply unaware of their legal rights. As a result vulnerable groups like these have some of the lowest rates of access to justice services in Viet Nam.

With the help of an exciting new innovation initiative, UNDP in Viet Nam is helping to make law school a much more interesting by combining theory with real life experience, at the same time as helping rural laborers to better understand their rights.

"I’m learning what I have not been taught in law school. Although the issues are related to the labor and marriage laws, there are other things that I’ve only learned by working with the community" explained Nguyen Huy Hoang, a 3-year law student at FTU.

This community experience is designed to improve listening, questioning and a range of other skills that they will need to become good lawyers. When they've graduated they will also have a much better understanding of rural laborers’ most pressing concerns.

The students carefully noted down the issues raised by the laborers and their families and returned to FTU for a follow-up workshop. They discussed the legal issues raised during their stay with faculty members and private lawyers to learn how to respond. In July, the students will return to the village to provide their hosts with practical legal advice.

“I’m very happy that the students spent the whole weekend with us, and helped with the daily housework. I want to understand more about the labor law, including salary, allowances, social insurance, maternity leave as well as other labor related issues so that I know what my rights are. I will talk and advise other people who also lack this information and help them understand more about our labor rights” said Nguyen Thi Huong, a worker at Dinh Tram Industrial Zone.

Many universities in Viet Nam are watching this project with great interest – eager to learn from it, and to replicate the model in their own curriculum.

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