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Despite disenfranchising a faction of the population from availing its fundamental rights, the matter of legal illiteracy is commonly overshadowed by more pressing concerns for the justice system; although, the difficulty posed is perhaps equally onerous. The level of neglect for conventional solutions ultimately leads to further regression. Nonetheless, what if we could mobilize more unconventional means of increasing legal literacy, in order to counteract the threat to civil justice in Pakistan? If the desired outputs include an increase in access to justice and legal literacy, then telecom-based solutions are the tools of the trade. The process, however, lies in identifying the impact of legal illiteracy on the current civil justice framework in Pakistan. As per the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index for 2018-2019, Pakistan’s civil justice framework was ranked 118th out of the 126 countries considered. Across metrics such as ‘accessibility and affordability’, as well as ‘lack of discrimination and corruption’ within the civil justice system, Pakistan received an overall score of 0.38 out of 1.00 for civil justice. The civil justice ‘accessibility & affordability’ metric best illustrated the trend; whereby despite a minor improvement from the 2017-2018 figures, Pakistan remained behind the average regional and comparable income-level scores. Ostensibly, despite minimal gains, the state of civil justice in Pakistan remains largely stagnant.
In 2017, the Extended General Population Poll of the Rule of Law Index illustrated alarming rates of inaccessible civil justice within five urban hubs in Pakistan; whereby 82 percent of the sample population claimed to have experienced legal difficulty in the two-year period preceding the survey. Disconcertingly, 86 percent of those who experienced legal troubles did not pursue any legal action whatsoever. Why then, despite the significant volume of legal difficulty faced, were legal avenues largely overlooked? The answer may be two-fold; with (i) the general state of literacy and (ii) a lack of legal literacy amongst both literate and illiterate demographics being root factors. The latest Economic Survey of Pakistan reported a countrywide rate of literacy of 62.3 percent during 2017-2018. The figures suggested that by default 37.7 percent of the population was rendered legally vulnerable due to basic illiteracy alone. Coupled with archaic and inadequate direction regarding the dispersion of laws to the public, a large proportion of the literate demographic may similarly be excluded due to a lack of knowledge regarding relevant legal provisions.
Additional constraints come into play with regard to digital literacy; an aspect that considers the knowledge and skills needed to interact with our technological ecosystem. As of 2019, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Inclusive Internet Index ranked Pakistan 77th out of 100 countries considered globally for national internet inclusion. The Internet Index considered mainly four metrics – ‘availability’, ‘affordability’, ‘relevance,’ and ‘readiness’. Despite the largely negative image of digital literacy portrayed by the Internet Index, the widespread use of mobile phones across cities and villages, for streaming and downloading content, across Pakistan acts a testament to the infiltration of cellular and broadband use within the country. More so, it illustrates an increase in digital-based consumption; an aspect that largely faces an upwards trajectory.
In fact, within the Internet Index itself, “affordability” was considered a silver-lining; with the report citing stiff competition between multiple telecom providers within the domestic market as a positive indicator. There is no doubt that the availability of numerous options leads to increased affordability – an aspect that is largely beneficial for the end-user. As per the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s telecom indicators for June 2019, that benefit is currently availed by an estimated 161 million cellular subscribers across the country. Additionally, the figures indicate penetration of 3G/4G connections and broadband subscribers around 32.72 percent and 33.81 percent respectively. In contrast with figures from April of the same year, the current figures illustrate an estimated growth of 933, 800 and 1, 078, 700 subscribers to 3G/4G and broadband services respectively over a two-month period. Hence, reference to the telecom figures presents a reality that is less damning in nature. Moreover, the figures highlight considerable potential to utilize the telecom sector as a high-volume, low-cost mode of disseminating information across Pakistan.
It is interesting to note that previous iterations of the Internet Index had attributed unavailability of content in the local language as a principal factor for Pakistan’s unsatisfactory ranking. However, what if those language constraints could be eliminated altogether? What if the content being consumed by upwards of 161 million subscribers in Pakistan was not only available across all regional languages, but across various audio-visual formats? More importantly, what if the content being consumed was easily digestible legal information? Incorporating the use of audio-visual legal content, for distribution through telecommunication channels, would allow both the literate and illiterate demographics a greater degree of access to the law. In the foray of legal rights awareness, projects such as QanoonSabKayLiye exist to circulate simplified statutory information via the internet. Nonetheless, if we aim to eliminate barriers to civil justice in Pakistan, there is a need to encourage similar initiatives that inform the population of their civil protections en masse. For that, a degree of support is needed from the public sector.
Recently, the Ministry of Commerce introduced a draft policy framework, with the aim of incentivizing e-commerce startups through microfinance schemes and comprehensive civil reform. The rationale being to increase ease of doing business through an exemplary civil justice framework. Whilst the initiative is commendable, more needs to be done regarding legal awareness if comparable reforms are to be given due respect. Perhaps similar incentives should be given to legal awareness startups leveraging telecom-based solutions to increase legal literacy. Doing so would decrease the burden on public sector institutions, whilst providing the common individual a degree of legal knowledge necessary to use the strengthened legal framework proposed by the incumbent government. After all, what good is an exemplary legal framework when its beneficiaries cannot enforce its principal purpose?
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