Domestic violence against women is under-recognized and under-reported in China as it is in the rest of the world. According to a survey by the All-China Women’s Federation, for every three women, one is a victim of domestic violence. Despite a high incidence rate, China does not at present have any national laws that directly and comprehensively address the crime.
All are affected
About 90% of victims of domestic violence in China are women, and although the bulk of these victims are from rural areas, domestic violence is by no means a crime of poverty. Families of all ethnic backgrounds, demographics and social strata suffer from domestic violence, as it is traditionally an accepted part of conjugal life.
The recent case of Dong Shan Shan illustrates the ubiquity of domestic violence. Dong was a 26 year-old resident of Beijing and her and her husband were well off — they drove a BMW. Her husband beat her regularly and severely. Despite reporting her husband’s abuse to the police on eight separate occasions, Dong’s case was not seen as a priority by the authorities. On October 19, 2009, Dong died from infection in her internal organs which had sustained severe beating.
The light sentence served by the capital’s courts, shows the two major obstacles facing the fight against domestic violence today in China. First is the ingrained idea that domestic violence is a private matter that should be given leniency in the face of the law, and second, this situation is exacerbated by the lack of laws that directly addresses domestic violence.
Most people have a passive attitude towards reporting suspected cases of domestic violence — what happens within one’s home should stay at home and other people should not interfere, that includes neighbors and law enforcers. Reporting your wife-beating neighbor to the police is a taboo.
Domestic violence is an issue that should be of national concern. It is a basic human right for individuals to not be subjected to abuse of any form, and the government should be responsible for protecting Chinese citizens from domestic abuse. What happens in the home has the potential to trigger national changes.
As Jiang Yue’e, Director-general of the ACWF’s legal department, said to China Daily: “The conjugal violence has grown into a potential threat to the social stability. It is a major cause that leads to divorces and potential crimes.”
Although Chinese law does indirectly prohibit domestic violence, such as the clauses stated within the marriage laws and within the women’s rights and interest protection laws. However, there is no clear legal definition of domestic violence and there is no clear legal framework that directly addresses domestic violence on a national level.
At a provincial level, some 25 progressive provincial governments have established their own legal frameworks for dealing with domestic violence. Particularly in Hebei, Hunan and Liaoning, for cases where women end up killing their abusive husbands in a desperate act of self-defense, the provincial courts do consider serving lighter sentences to the women, typically 5-10 years.
But for China as a whole, intervention in domestic violence cases is generally a very difficult matter. A proposal was submitted by the ACWF and members of the NCP and CPPCC in March 2010 to establish a set of national anti-domestic violence laws.
Through our multi-platform media campaign, we relay to the public that domestic violence is not a private matter but a crime. Physical violence in a relationship should not be accepted and everyone should intervene if they know someone who is being abused.