Experts say draft domestic violence law far from perfect

By Zhang Hui Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-4 19:33:36

A man threatens to beat his wife on the street of Jinhua, Zhejiang Province in July, 2011. Photo: CFP

To prevent her boyfriend from raping her 13-year-old daughter, Li Mei (pseudonym), in her 40s, has been spent more than a year shuttling between hiding places in Beijing.

After her first marriage failed, Li decided to take her next relationship slowly. She took her daughter to move in with her boyfriend last year, as a way to prepare for marriage. Two months later when Li found out that the man was a kleptomaniac and gambling addict, she decided to leave.

At that point, her boyfriend threatened to rape the 13-year-old daughter Li had had with her ex-husband, so as to stop her from leaving. Li believed that he was both willing and able to hurt her and her daughter.

Frightened and helpless, Li fled from the house with her daughter, and has stayed on the move since. 

Li was just one of the victims of domestic abuse who are not protected under the current Criminal Law.

Even a newly released draft anti-domestic violence law, published after years of advocacy by experts, does not cover violence between people who are cohabiting or divorced.

Chinese lawyers and women's rights experts believe the draft inadequately protects victims of domestic abuse because of the insufficient range of people covered, and its inadequate definition of abuse. 

Concerned experts have until the end of December to submit their suggestions on the draft on the website of the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council, in the hopes that lawmakers will broaden the draft.

Left out

Li once showed up at the Beijing Maple Women's Psychological Counseling Centre for help. The center helped her report her case to police. But the police declined to take the case, as Li's daughter had not actually been molested.

"Police still would not care about her, even if [this] law came into effect at some point in the future," Hou Zhiming, the center's director, told the Global Times.

According to the draft, domestic violence refers to physical or mental abuse, or both, between family members including spouses, parents, children and other close relatives who live together. Violence in families with adopted children is also included.

The explanations accompanying the draft said that violence between people in a relationship who are cohabiting or divorced is no different from violence between members of society at large, meaning that different portions of the criminal code should apply.

Under the new draft, married victims of domestic abuse can apply for a restraining order, but not victims like Li, Hou said.

Some Chinese lawyers believe that divorced couples and people in a relationship who are cohabiting should also be covered.

"The only difference in violence between two people cohabiting and married couples is whether they have a marriage certificate. But the violence between them shares common characteristics, including that is difficult to collect evidence due to its [inherently] private nature," said Lü Xiaoquan, research director for the Beijing Zhongze Women's Legal Counseling and Service Center. He added that common-law marriages have not been recognized in China since 1994.

"The result of treating [violence between people who are cohabiting the same as violence between general members of the public is normally no result at all," Lü said.

Many experts view violence between divorced couples as a form of domestic abuse, as the two parties once had a family together, and many divorced couples still live together due to high rent rates.

Same-sex couples are also left out of the draft, according to Ah Qiang (pseudonym), director of the organization Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

People who choose to be silent about their sexual orientation, a common choice in China due to societal discrimination, are more prone to abuse by their partners, and have fewer options for help than other domestic victims, Ah Qiang said.

Meanwhile, a large number of the 30 million gay people in China raise children with their partners, he said.

"How could their children seek help if they were abused by their gay parents?" Ah Qiang said.

The draft protects juveniles or elderly people who suffer from domestic abuse, but makes no mention of children raised by parents in same-sex marriages.

Narrow definition

Hou pointed out that, many countries include sexual abuse and financial control in their definitions of domestic abuse, apart from physical or mental abuse.

Many people in China tend to view sex within a marriage as an obligation, making it more difficult for victims to talk about sexual abuse than general domestic abuse. The draft ignores sexual abuse as a form of domestic violence when many victims suffer from sexual abuses, according to Hou.

The Beijing Maple Women's Psychological Counseling Center studied 60 cases of domestic violence in 2012, discovering that victims in 12 cases who had suffered sexual abuse had thought about killing their husbands.

Sexual abuse, which normally includes forced sex, abuse with sexual implements, or withholding sex in a marriage, should be listed as a form of domestic abuse, experts said. China's Criminal Law states that forcing people have undesired sex is considered sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse also applies to children. Six percent of the children in two villages in Guangdong Province suffered from sexual abuse, according to a report on violence against children in 2011, the Nandu Daily reported.

Financial control can be another form of domestic violence, although it may seem less serious than other types at first glance. However, some of the victims the Beijing Maple Women's Psychological Counseling Center have spoken of losing the ability to live independently after decades of their spouses controlling their finances.

Even if the draft law is readjusted, China's campaign against domestic abuse still has a long way to go, Hou said. "China urgently needs special shelters that are equipped with the security, psychological and legal resources to provide victims of domestic abuse with comprehensive help."

Newspaper headline: When abuse isn't abuse

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