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Domestic violence law offers hope for victims

Xinhua, March 2, 2016 Adjust font size:

Zhang Qin has been beaten occasionally by her husband since they married in 2012. In his most recent outburst, he broke her nose.

After being discharged from hospital on Monday afternoon, Zhang from Xuanwei City in southwest China's Yunnan Province, went straight to a support center in the provincial capital of Kunming. Living at the shelter will be the first step in breaking the vicious circle of violence.

"At home, I do the housework and look after our child, but still he beats me," said Zhang.

"I am safe here but I am worried about my child, I just hope we can be protected," she said.

The Domestic Violence Law, which took effect on March 1, offers hope for victims of abuse, like Zhang. Among the many measures to protect victims, abusers could be ordered to move out of their homes.

The law will make the public more aware of domestic violence and will act as a deterrent, according to Zhao Ling, deputy chief judge of the family affairs tribunal of Fangshan District People's Court, Beijing.

Zhang Shuang, of Xicheng District People's Court in Beijing, admitted that it is often hard to gather evidence for domestic violence cases and only 10 percent are resolved through the courts.

Huang Liling, a partner of Beijing Zhongmian Law Office, said a lack of witnesses and a reluctance to give evidence in a court of law hindered cases.

Nearly 25 percent of Chinese women have suffered violence in their marriage, according to the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF).

However, only a fraction report abuse. The ACWF only receives around 40,000 complaints a year, more than 88 percent in 2014 involved the abuse of wives.

Domestic violence is considered an embarrassing private matter and remains in the shadows in China. Even when the abuse is reported, it is often shuffled from the police to women's federations to neighborhood committees.

This mindset will take time to change, particularly for rural residents, as many believe that domestic matters should be kept private.

Wang Yuan, a law major from China University of Political Science and Law, even said that she would be reticent to report domestic abuse to the police unless it was putting someone's life at risk.

"The law is more symbolic than real," said Kong Jingnan, who works for China Construction Third Engineering Bureau Co. He doubted its "deterrent affect" and said it might help to reduce physical violence, but exacerbate mental abuse.

"However, it is a progress," said Kong. "Police officers are now obliged to respond to reports of domestic violence and it is no longer seen as just a family dispute."

Until this year, there was no specialized law on domestic abuse. References to the matter were included in other laws and regulations such as the Marriage Law, the Law on the Protection of Minors, and the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women.

Less than two decades ago, physical abuse was not even acceptable as grounds for divorce in China. In 2001 the Marriage Law was amended to explicitly ban domestic violence.

"The law shows that the government is paying more attention to the vulnerable, but it needs further improvement," said Zhang, adding that she hoped that all abusers would be punished, no matter how big or small the physical injuries are.

"Police usually ask us to go to hospital and have the doctors check our injuries. If the injury is slight, however, charges will not be filed," she said.