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November 30, 2011

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Secrecy still shrouds domestic abuse

DONG Shanshan's life was short and painful. She was only 26 when she died from renal failure after two months in the hospital.

Her husband Wang Guangyun who started beating her six moths after they married was imprisoned for merely six years and six months. She wanted a divorce but didn't pursue it. The police responded eight times to domestic violence calls and Dong explained her situation to a court and a doctor. It did no good.

"The police came and went, saying it was not their job to deal with such domestic troubles," Zhang Xiufen, Dong's mother recalls.

For the past 10 years, the All-China Women's Federation, experts and many women have been pressing for adoption of a national anti-domestic violence law in China. In October, the Anti-Domestic Violence Network of the China Law Society (ADVN) submitted a proposed draft law to the National People's Congress, China's legislature. The proposal is being examined. The last proposal in 2003 was not recommended and hence, not voted upon.

The latest statistics from ADVN indicate that between 2004 and 2008, women's groups across the country dealt with an average of 40,000 to 50,000 domestic violence complaints each year. The number has been growing. "Rates have increased over the past 10 years and more problems of domestic violence have come to light," says Xia Yinlan, a law professor of the China University of Political Science and Law.

"Ten years ago, few people had any idea about domestic violence," says Xia, who also leads the team of anti-domestic violence experts who submitted the latest proposal.

"What we are going to do is to tear a thousand-year-old idea out of the people's minds," she says.

Domestic violence in China has traditionally been considered a private issue and off-limits for law enforcement, thus, many battered women don't get help.

Awareness of the death, injury and damage caused by domestic violence has been increasing in China since 1995, when Beijing hosted the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women.

In the same year, the first local anti-domestic violence regulation was implemented in the southern province of Hunan. Six years later, domestic violence was clearly prohibited in the Marriage Law.

Opposition to domestic violence is now enshrined in the Constitution, the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women, and some other Chinese laws. Despite all the laws and regulations, victims of domestic violence still feel helpless.

"The current provisions on domestic violence are scattered in different laws and regulations without an integrated logical connection, and thus many provisions are not systematic or standardized," according to Xia.

She says a clear definition of domestic violence is lacking and the objective of "protecting women" is vague.

In Dong's case, Wang was found guilty of abuse under China's criminal law but was not charged with intent to cause injury.

Police would have had difficulty charging Wang with the intent to injure, since it was unclear whether his wife died from the latest beating he gave her, or from the cumulative damage of many violent attacks, Xia explains.

Court-issued protection orders are rare or nonexistent. Recently some southern provinces have been piloting such measures which order men to stop abusing spouses or face penalties. Almost all perpetrators obey the orders, so far.

"Policemen should at least stop the violence and make the husband know it's wrong," according to Li Hongtao, professor at the China Woman's University and member of the council of ADVN.

"Only a national law can unite all the resources to stop domestic violence," Li says.

In addition to legal protection, it's essential to raise public awareness and end the secrecy and shame surrounding domestic violence, says Sun Jue, executive director of Half the Sky Public Education, a Hong-Kong based NGO. She says many Chinese still view domestic violence as a largely private issue that outsiders should not interfere with.

Half the Sky Public Education released two public service advertisements called "Knock on the Door to Stop Domestic Violence" through TV, public transport mobile media, and the Internet on November 24, the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Li Yang, the founder of Crazy English, a popular non-traditional training program for oral English on the Chinese mainland, has admitted to beating his American wife Kim Lee in front of their children, and said his action was not illegal in China.

Kim Lee has sued for divorce on the grounds that Li physically bullied her, accusing him of having violent tendencies.

Unlike Kim Lee, Dong Shanshan hesitated to file for divorce. On her deathbed, Dong still tried to stop her mother from telling the police. "She was afraid if I did we would have a really horrible life," Dong's mother recalls.


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