China's Domestic Violence Law 'Needs Detailed Work': Experts

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china-domestic-violence-ad-nov-2002.jpg A woman looks at a billboard calling for an end to domestic violence in Beijing, in a file photo.

Draft legislation published by China's cabinet, the State Council, targeting domestic violence lacks crucial details that could make it effective in practice, experts said in recent interviews with RFA.

The draft Law of the People's Republic of China against Domestic Violence, which was released last week for public consultation, allows victims of violence in the home to apply for help to government-backed bodies like the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF) for help, as well as to report physical abuse to the police.

It affirms the right of individuals and state agencies including police stations, schools, social groups and healthcare providers to intervene to prevent it, and to offer assistance to victims.

It also specifically prohibits acts of physical harm towards the elderly, the disabled or the terminally ill.

More importantly, it mandates the reporting of incidents of domestic violence by those who witness them.

"Not reporting such incidents can do serious harm, and those failing to do so will incur legal responsibility," the draft says.

But domestic violence experts told RFA that the draft as it stands isn't nearly detailed enough to be effective.

"Restraining orders are very important, and the detail around them needs to be made much clearer," Ding Xiaoji, a lawyer from the northeastern city of Shenyang, who is now based in New York, told RFA.

"For example, should a restraining order be effective for a year or six months? Should it ban a person from a 100- or 200-meter (330- or 660-foot) radius? Should it include telephone harassment, letters, emails or other forms of communication?"

"All of these things should be covered by a restraining order," Ding said.

She called on the drafting committee to learn from the experience of more developed countries with more mature legal systems.

"[This needs to be] much more detailed," she said.

Police duties

Gender studies scholar Lu Pin, who edits the online newspaper "Women's Voice," welcomed the draft as a first step.

"Overall, this draft is a good thing, but there is a problem," Lu said. "It doesn't set out the responsibilities of the police. So, when the court has issued the restraining order, it is then transferred to the police."

"But do the police then have a duty to enforce it? Because court officials have no way to check up with perpetrators or with victims whether or not it is being enforced," she said.

"Perhaps the police are only obliged to get involved if the restraining order is breached, but the draft doesn't make this clear, nor does it say who has responsibility for overseeing restraining orders," Lu said, adding: "This is a huge problem."

Lu said awareness of the issue among state agencies and individuals alike is key to resolving the problem.

"The awareness question is about whether or not we should do something about domestic violence, and whether individuals or powerful agencies should do something; whether it's all up to them," she said.

"It's also a question of resources ... about whether we will have financial backing from the government if we do decide we want to do something about it."

Devastating impact

The law is being drafted as the world marks the 20th anniversary of China's hosting of the Fourth World Conference on Women, and was hailed by the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF) as a landmark in the ruling Chinese Communist Party's policy of gender equality.

"The draft is based on China's experience of combating domestic violence and is in line with China's pursuit of rule by law," the ACWF said in a statement.

"In China, once considered a 'family matter,' the issue of domestic violence has received growing attention, especially given the increase in media reporting on individual cases," it said.

Evidence clearly demonstrates that domestic violence can have a devastating impact on a family: Violence against women and girls is rooted in and reproduces power imbalances between women and men—both at home and in the community, and in society as a whole," it said.

Not all victims of domestic violence are women, however.

In recent years, around 33 percent of girls and more than 50 percent of boys have reportedly suffered physical punishments at the hands of their parents or other relatives.

And a recent study found that more than 13 percent of people over 65 had been victims of physical abuse.

Reported by Lin Ping for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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