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China’s new domestic violence law comes into effect

The new law became effective today and was passed by the State legislature in December. Although it is unclear exactly how the law will work in practice, it is hailed as a step in the right direction.

Quoting the Chinese state media, Al Jazeera reports the new law forbids all types of domestic violence; “physical, psychological, and other harm inflicted by family members including beatings, restraint, injury, arbitrary deprivation of liberty and recurring verbal threats and abuse.”

Critics of the law say it does not go far enough. Marital rape is not outlawed and not enough emphasis is placed on health and social services. The law has also been criticized for being limited to people who are living in the same household. An example was given as two lesbians living together. While the law would protect them from abuse from their partner, it would not cover abuse they may encounter from parents who live elsewhere.

According to the All-China Women’s Federation, close to 25 percent of all married women in the country have experienced domestic violence. The federation believes the numbers are probably higher because instances of abuse are under-reported, especially in rural areas.

Prior to the law, domestic abuse was considered a private family matter. China Daily reports that if police were called, the police would tell the abuser, usually the husband, to stop. If the husband refused and said it is a private family matter and none of their business, police were powerless to do anything. Now police must intervene and collect evidence of abuse. They must also see the victim gets medical help and assist with obtaining a restraining order. The law provides courts must make a decision on an application for a restraining order within 72 hours. A restraining order can have the effect of making the alleged abuser move out of the house.

Domestic violence in China has now moved from a private matter to a societal concern. The law also provides for prevention measures such as employers being required to promote the fact domestic abuse is wrong.

Lawyers believe the new law will result in a dramatic drop in domestic violence. Lawyer Wang Xinliang said, “Domestic violence won’t stop until offenders see the actual punishments when the law comes into force.” Wang added the message will be driven home when restraining orders are issued.

It will obviously take time to see just how effective this law will be.

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