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China's first domestic violence law may include psychological harm, cover cohabitation

CHINA'S first domestic violence law may include emotional or psychological abuse and cover cohabitation in order to bring more traditionally silent abuse victims under protection, a new draft read.

According to the draft, which is up for a second reading at the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee's bimonthly session, "the country prohibits any form of domestic violence."

It defined domestic violence as both physical and psychological harm inflicted between family members, including beatings, injuries, restraint or forcible limits on physical liberty as well as recurring verbal threats and abuse as examples.

An earlier draft, submitted in August this year, included only physical abuse, but many lawmakers have since argued that the definition was far too narrow, said Su Zelin, deputy director with the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee.

They also argued that the anti-domestic violence law should also cover cohabitation, Su said, hence the second draft of the law stipulated in a supplementary article that those who are not related but live together are also subject to the new law.

Family violence has remained in the shadows for a long time in China, where the culture holds that family conflicts are embarrassing private matters. As a result, domestic violence victims are often too embarrassed to speak out, and in many cases, police have turned away victims who came for help.

Only in recent years have people examined the issue in the wake of increasing public awareness and media reports on high-profile abuse scandals.

In 2011 Kim Lee, wife of celebrity entrepreneur Li Yang, who founded the hugely popular English learning program "Crazy English", posted pictures of her bruised face on Sina Weibo and accused Li of domestic violence. Many people were shocked and urged Kim to use laws as the weapon.

Li Yang's response, however, was even more shocking. He admitted to beating his wife but blamed her for breaking the Chinese tradition of not disclosing family affairs to the public. In 2013, Kim was granted a divorce, alimony and compensation by a Chinese court on the grounds of domestic violence.

But until now, China still did not have a specialized law on family abuse - references to the matter are only made in a number of national laws and regulations, including the Marriage Law, the Law on the Protection of Minors and the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women.

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

The average number of complaints lodged by domestic violence victims to ACWF branches nationwide stood at 40,000 to 50,000 cases each year.

Victims resorting to ACWF for help mainly constitute women, children and the elderly, as 88.3 percent of cases they received in 2014 involved abuse by husbands to their wives, 7.5 percent by parents or a parent to their children, and 1.3 percent by children to their aged parents.

According to the new draft law, victims and those under practical danger from domestic violence can file for a personal protection order and the court must decide on whether to grant such an order within 72 hours. In urgent cases, decisions must be made within a day.

Police, women's federations and social service organs, in addition to close relatives, would be able to apply for orders for those with no or limited civil capacity for civil conduct and for those who could not do so themselves as a result of physical force or threats.

Once the order is granted, courts may prohibit the abuser from domestic violence, harassing, stalking and contacting the applicant, order the abuser to move out of home or adopt various other measures to protect the safety of the applicant, according to the draft.

The orders can last a maximum of six months and can be revoked or extended based on the victims' application.

Should the abuser violate the protection order, they will be fined up to 1,000 yuan, be detained for up to 15 days or face criminal charges in serious offences.



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