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China's Domestic Violence Law Gets Mixed Reception

FILE - University students dressed as battered wives hold banners in front of an office of China's Civil Affairs department, where local people register for marriage, in protest of domestic violence, during the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, in Hubei province, Nov. 25, 2012.

Long-awaited measure doesn't go far enough in terms of safeguarding homosexuals and victims of marital rape, some say.

While activists across China welcomed passage of this week's landmark anti-domestic-violence law, some said the hard-fought legislation didn't go far enough in terms of safeguarding homosexuals and victims of marital rape.

Adopted by a landslide vote of the National People's Congress on Sunday, the new law, which goes into effect March 1, subverts a long-standing Chinese tradition of treating domestic violence as a private family matter.

Women's organizations have long advocated national policies to shield against domestic abuse, and nearly all of the country's provinces have instituted regulations against domestic violence.

In an interview with VOA Mandarin, Lu Jun, co-founder of the Beijing Yirenping Center, which promotes gender equality and conducts anti-discrimination litigation, called the policy too little and too late.

"While the new law [represents] progress in protecting rights of women and children in China, it's far from enough," she said. "Sexual violence and domestic violence between same-sex couples are not subject to this law. This year is the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing — China spent too many years to enact the basic law on women's rights protection. It's really too slow."

No rape in marriage

According to Lu Pin, editor-in-chief of Women’s Voice, a weekly e-magazine on gender-related news and analysis, Chinese law doesn’t acknowledge the possibility of rape within a marriage.

"In legal practice, domestic sexual violence actually is excluded," she said. "In a few cases regarding domestic sexual violence, the court insisted that maintaining a marital relationship is a couple’s obligation. Therefore, rape cannot exist in a marriage."

Passage of the anti-domestic-violence law coincided with what Lu Pin described as a crackdown on gender equality advocacy in China, including the arrest and detention of five feminists in March.

"This shows the government does not want the civil society to lead the process of human rights protection, and they are not willing to recognize the contribution made by the civil society," she said. "But in reality, Chinese civil society has made huge achievements."

According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, the new legislation defines domestic abuse as "physical, psychological and other harm inflicted by family members with beatings, restraint or forcible limits on physical liberty, recurring invectives and verbal threats."

Restraining orders

The new law also stipulates that victims can now file restraining orders that force abusers from the home. Courts must rule within 72 hours of filing, and police will be required to respond immediately.

According to the Communist Party-run All-China Women’s Federation, about a quarter of all women have suffered violence in their marriages, although only 40,000 to 50,000 complaints are registered each year. Of the cases reported last year, almost 90 percent involved abuse of wives by their husbands.

The new law also covers unmarried people who cohabit. Asked at a news conference whether this included gay couples, Guo Linmao, a member of the legislative affairs commission of parliament’s standing committee, said the law was a response to specific problems discovered.

“There are a lot of examples of domestic violence between family members, and also between people who cohabit,” Guo said. “As for homosexuals in our country, we have not yet discovered this form of violence, so to give you a certain answer, it can be said that 'people who cohabit' does not include homosexuals.”

While homosexuality is not illegal in China, and large cities have thriving gay scenes, there are no legal protections for same-sex couples and the country is not likely to legalize same-sex marriage soon.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service. Some information for this report came from Reuters.