Law Against Domestic Violence: Better Late than Never

December 15, 2014
By Chen XiaoEditor: Kiki Liu

The Chinese government began consulting the public on a draft of its Law on Domestic Violence — the first law of its kind in the country — on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Almost 20 years have passed since China was first introduced to the legal concept of domestic violence, back in 1995. That year, the concept of domestic violence was discussed at the United Nations (UN) Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing. Before the world conference, many people still believed that domestic violence did not exist in China.

However, according to statistics compiled by the Rights and Interests Department of the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF), approximately 40,000 to 50,000 cases on domestic violence have been reported each year since 1995. Moreover, domestic-violence cases account for approximately 30 percent of all reported incidents of violence; and divorce cases involving domestic violence account for roughly 40 to 60 percent of all divorce cases in China.

Research carried out across various parts of China shows that close to 90 percent of all domestic-violence victims are women — women who are subjected to physical and mental abuse under their very own roof.

In light of the alarmingly high number of reported cases of domestic violence, provincial-level legislative branches had come to realize large-scale negative effects that the violence has on society. As a result, these local legislative branches have undertaken efforts to formulate their own respective regional domestic-violence legislation.

The pioneer of the movement was a provincial-level legislative branch in central China's Hunan Province. The year following the UN's Fourth World Conference on Women, the Hunan branch published a new policy — Provisions for Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence — which marked the first significant legislative attempt against domestic violence in Chinese mainland, in 1996.

On March 31, 2000, the Hunan Provincial People's Congress Standing Committee passed China's first provincial regulation against domestic violence: Resolution on the Prevention and Suppression of Acts of Domestic Violence. This was the first local law to define domestic violence. Later, new legislation would define the responsibilities of the police departments, procuratorate, courts and other relevant organizations.

Jiang Yue'e, director of the Rights and Interests Department of the ACWF, gave high praise to Hunan's provincial law on anti–domestic violence but criticized the weak practice of reprimanding perpetrators of domestic violence with merely a warning or a fine.

"It has been very difficult for cops to deal with domestic-violence cases due to the lack of awareness on the part of the abused women, for their own legal rights," said an unnamed police director. "Chinese women subjected to violence at home often will not seek the help of police. But when police do receive reports of domestic violence and try to take action to resolve the problem, the husband has usually already begun pleading with his wife for forgiveness. In most of these cases, the wives will choose to pardon their husbands, as they don't want the incident to be exposed to the public. This makes it very difficult for the police to settle the dispute in a legal way," said the director. "That said, other countries have adopted their own measures to deal with the issue; and this provides us within sight on what measures we could take to resolve the problem here in China and help women to be more aware of their rights."

The United States responded to its nation wide issue of domestic and sexual violence by enacting the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which states that family members including ex-partners must all be protected. Meanwhile, across the pond, a similar anti-domestic violence movement — themed "zero tolerance"— was taking place in Britain, whose social non-profit organizations, departments of public services, housing departments, women's aid agencies and voluntary committees were all making great efforts in combating domestic violence.

Thanks to the efforts of the political leaders and legislators from these other countries, are vision to China's Marriage Law was made in 2001, covering general provisions against domestic violence and marking a milestone in the legislative history of domestic violence in China.

A number of new anti–domestic violence provisions were established in the revision of the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women, released in 2005. And recently, a Guide for Hearing Marriage Cases Involving Domestic Violence was released in China, containing personal-protection orders for victims of domestic violence.

The obstacles that China faces with domestic violence were highlighted in the 2011 divorce case whereby Chinese celebrity Li Yang, often referred as "Crazy English" teacher, was accused of beating his American wife, after online photos she posted of her injuries which triggered a wave of condemnation for Li. The incident, which received international media attention, undoubtedly ties in significantly with China's legislation plan for anti–domestic violence.

In March of this year, the ACWF completed its contributions to the draft of the anti-domestic violence law and provided the State Council with the results of their work.

"It took 19 years for China to complete the final draft of its anti–domestic violence law. The traditional mindset of putting less emphasis on domestic affairs was the reason why the national law against domestic violence proved to be such an arduous task spanning such a long period of time. Just as the old proverb goes, 'Even an upright official finds it hard to settle a family quarrel'. Actually, family disputes should be solved via the means of constitutional law," said Wu Changzhen, a professor specialized in civil law and marriage law.

Professor Li Mingshun, from China Women's University, expressed that domestic violence is a global issue and threatens people's basic human rights in all corners of the world." It was necessary for there to be a shift in the traditional views on domestic violence and to introduce a practical way to ensure the protection of women's rights and protection against domestic violence. And it is impossible to eliminate domestic violence relying solely on a national law."

(Source: by Women of China)

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  • Legal Environment for Women and Children

    Lawyers and rights groups held a press conference in Beijing on December 15, 2014 to discuss their suggestions to help improve China’s new draft law on domestic violence.
    Lawyers and rights groups held a press conference in Beijing on December 15, 2014 to discuss their suggestions to help improve China’s new draft law on domestic.

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    Lawyers and rights groups held a press conference in Beijing on December 15, 2014 to discuss their suggestions to help improve China’s new draft law on domestic violence.
    Lawyers and rights groups held a press conference in Beijing on December 15, 2014 to discuss their suggestions to help improve China’s new draft law on domestic violence.

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