On December 27, the standing committee of China’s National People’s Congress adopted the Anti-Domestic Violence Law, defining family abuse as a legal concept and enacting a restraining order and personal protection order mechanism. The law took effect 1 March.
The legislation defines physical and psychological harm caused by family members, which include beatings, injuries, freedom of movement restrictions, as well as verbal abuse and threats. Under the law, victims of abuse by family members are entitled to obtain a personal protection order, which courts are obliged to respond to within 72 hours, or within a day in urgent cases. Domestic violence has become a significant problem in China, with estimates putting the share of Chinese women who have faced abuse at home at between 30 percent and 60 percent. So far, estimates have been vague and the problem has been underreported due to the absence of clear laws on the issue and for cultural reasons. Many abuse victims in China feel trapped because of official indifference and a lack of assistance escaping from their attackers. Refuges are very rare, with just over 400 to serve a population of more than 1.3 billion.
Chen Jialin with the National People’s Congress Legal Affairs Committee says the new law is much more practical than previous attempts at stemming domestic violence.
“The law contains some practical measures against domestic violence. Police are required to issue restraining orders in severe cases, while victims can also apply for protection from the local courts. Measures like these are expected to prevent violence from taking place or getting worse. This is why this law as made.”
Chen Jialin says the new law also has a focus on protecting minors.
“Since researchers have proved that domestic violence is a learned trait within a family, the law has multiple measures, such as a compulsory reporting system, to reduce the impact of family violence on children. Law enforcers can decide not to intervene if the domestic dispute is strictly between adults. But if there is abuse of a child, police have a legal duty to report the case after they discover it.”
Under the new law, police, women’s federations and social service organizations, as well as close relatives, are able to apply for orders for those with no or limited capacity to help themselves, such as young children or the elderly.
Once the order is granted, the courts can order the abuser to move out of the home, or adopt various other measures to protect the safety of the victim.
The issue garnered international attention in 2011 when a Chinese woman was sentenced to death for killing her abusive husband.
Li Yan, a woman in Sichuan province, was sentenced to death in August 2011 for killing her husband, Tan Yong. Li said she had suffered years of abuse and violence at the hands of Mr Tan, including being burned by cigarette butts, having part of her finger chopped off and being locked out of their accommodation in winter.
Li Yan complained about the abuse to local police and community officials, but they did nothing to investigate. In November 2010 she killed her husband during a fight, hitting him with the butt of an air rifle that, Li’s lawyer says, Mr Tan had threatened to shoot her with, and dismembered his body.
Evidence of abuse including police records, hospital records, witness testimony, pictures of her injuries and complaints to the ACWF (All China Women’s Federation) were presented in court, Human Rights Watch said,but the court ruled that it was not enough to prove she had suffered domestic violence. Li Yan appealed against the death sentence on self defence grounds, but it was rejected by the Sichuan high court.
In 2015, the supreme court ordered a retrial and a two-year reprieve on her death sentence, which is almost certain to be converted to life in prison without parole.The decision came shortly after the supreme court unveiled new sentencing guidelines for cases involving victims of abuse.
Li Yan told her brother in a letter from jail that if China had had a law on domestic violence her case might have ended differently.
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