Notes from the Field

Law Books Fill Important Need in Bangladesh

May 20, 2009

Dhaka University has one of the oldest and most respected law programs in Bangladesh; its graduates go on to become champions of justice and equality in a country where both are in short supply. As Bangladesh’s largest public university, its students arrive from all corners of the country – from thatched houses in rural villages to the bustling apartment blocks of downtown Dhaka. Yet, despite its national prestige, the university lacks sufficient resources to provide its students access to critical, contemporary legal reference books. Without a lending library, the university’s 900 law students vie for a limited supply of outdated texts in a cramped reading room, which allows for only a modest round table and 12 chairs. 

This year, the International Law Book Facility (ILBF) – a U.K.-based charity that provides legal texts to Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean – specifically asked Books for Asia to partner with them in Bangladesh. The result was Law Books for Asia, a new pilot project, which is beginning in Bangladesh, to outfit Asian legal institutions with modern reference and resource tools.

The project’s first phase in Bangladesh is stocking shelves at institutions in Dhaka, like the Bangladesh Bar Association, the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association, and Dhaka University. The second phase will expand the project to rural institutions and community organizations located far from the capital to promote greater legal knowledge and citizen access to justice.

The International Law Book Facility packing crew in London, before the books were shipped to Bangladesh.

The International Law Book Facility packing crew in London, before the books were shipped to Bangladesh.

We hope that Law Books for Asia will be replicated in countries with similar needs in their legal institutions.  To do this, we need a steady stream of new legal texts donated by legal publishers and law firm libraries in the United States, Australia, and Singapore, in addition to the U.K.

Legal texts like these distributed to universities will enhance the quality of legal education and teaching methods. Texts donated to local organizations will bolster efforts of community organizers to advocate and lobby on behalf of women, the poor, and other disenfranchised groups. Legislators, judges, and government employees in charge of implementing legal policies can use the donated law books to learn about global standards, rights, and processes to reform from within.

Books for Asia has provided over 2 million books to Bangladesh since its independence in 1971, meeting a vital need where poverty and illiteracy are a daily challenge. Many professional texts in medicine, law, and technology are published only in English and remain extremely scarce in poor countries such as Bangladesh. The cost of purchasing these texts is excessive for those who would benefit from them most: students, community organizers, government employees, and legal practitioners serving the poorest sectors of society.

Boxes of texts for Bangladesh legal institutions.

Boxes of texts for Bangladesh legal institutions.

The Law Books for Asia program can get legal texts into the hands of those that need them – from organizations working to secure the rights of women and children, to village community leaders, and to the students sharing a chair and peering over each other’s shoulders in university reading rooms. With time, this effort will undoubtedly contribute to a broad understanding and implementation of a fair and efficient legal process throughout Asia.

Melody Zavala is The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia Program Director. She can be reached at mzavala@asiafound.org. Sukla Dey manages the Foundation’s books program in Bangladesh.  She can be reached at sdey@asiafound.org.

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