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China’s Domestic Violence Law Still Lacks Proper Implementation: Women’s Groups

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Ding Wenqi  |  Radio Free Asia

Rights activist Su Changlan ( Courtesy of Amnesty International)
Rights activist Su Changlan
( Courtesy of Amnesty International)

One year after China brought in new legislation aimed at curbing domestic violence, women’s rights groups say it has yet to be fully implemented.

In an open letter on International Women’s Day, the Beijing Yuanzhong Gender Development Center, the Beijing Weiping Women’s Rights Group, the Beijing Tongyu and New Media Women’s groups said the authorities have a long way to go to ensure the law is doing its job to protect women from domestic violence.

The groups said that in Shanghai, a city with a population of more than 10 million, police had recorded 5,700 cases of reported domestic violence.

But they had subsequently categorized just 2,200 as actual cases of domestic violence, and the groups said that just 41 restraining orders were issued through mid-November last year.

Meanwhile, courts in the northwestern province of Shaanxi issued a total of 54 restraining orders, while 53 were issued in the eastern province of Anhui, 60 in the central city of Changsha and nine in the central city of Wuhan, official media reported.

The All-China Women’s Federation, which is backed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, estimates that some 25 percent of Chinese women have suffered domestic violence to some extent in their marriages, though the organization receives just 40,000 complaints a year.

Women’s rights activist Ye Haiyan, known by her online nickname “Hooligan Sparrow,” said there is widespread public support for the law, however.

“Support is extremely strong, so it’s a shame that there still doesn’t seem to be enough recognition of this issue in the ranks of government,” Ye told RFA on Wednesday.

“I have heard of a lot of cases of domestic violence that get reported to the police, who then don’t take the steps they are supposed to take to deal with it,” she said.

“For example, appropriate processes aren’t in place for them to offer the victim a place in a refuge, or to issue a restraining order, or it takes a very long time,” Ye said.

Ye said the law doesn’t seem to be doing its job.

“I think it’s just empty words on a piece of paper right now,” she said. “The government needs to do more; it made a bit of noise when it passed the law last year, but it hasn’t really done much more than that.”

She said the government needs to set up an integrated process for police and courts to follow in domestic violence cases.

“Without that, the police can’t implement the law because they don’t know what the next step should be,” Ye said.

The head of China’s LGBT Rights group, Yan Zi, told RFA that while she welcomed the domestic violence law, there had been little concrete impact on the ground, and that it is still unclear if LGBT people are covered by the law at all.

“In cases of domestic violence between partners who are sexual minorities, the domestic violence law depends on gender,” she said. “I think women’s groups were hoping that they would be a bit more specific about that.”

Voices ‘muffled’

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the administration of President Xi Jinping has continued to “muffle” women’s voices since the detention two years ago of five feminists who were planning an anti-sexual harassment campaign.

Citing the closure of the social media accounts linked to the Women’s Voices group, HRW China researcher Maya Wang said the authorities are still preventing women from speaking out about issues that affect them.

“It is certainly a more subtle—and less drastic—tactic than taking these women into custody, but the intention is unmistakably similar: to silence independent women’s voices and replace them with tame ones trumpeting the government’s achievements,” Wang wrote in an article on HRW’s website.

Concerns are mounting over the fate of rights activist Su Changlan, who has been held in pre-trial detention for more than two years on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power.”

Her husband Chen Dequan said the local authorities are retaliating against Su after she supported local residents in a complaint over a government land grab in her home town.

“Only the lawyer is allowed to meet with her; they won’t let [the family] visit her,” Chen said. “They have been dragging this case out all this time.”

“We keep applying to visit her, and they say they’ll ask their bosses [but then we hear nothing back],” he said.

HRW’s Wang said while the Chinese authorities deserve credit for introducing the domestic violence law, as well as improvements in maternal mortality rates and girls’ literacy rates, many repressive practices remain.

“The government continues to restrict women’s reproductive freedoms including dictating how many children they can have and when,” Wang said.

“Authorities fail to legislate a precise definition of discrimination that would allow women to file a lawsuit, and they label single women older than 27 as ‘leftovers’ and wage publicity campaigns to get them to marry,” she wrote.

The Chinese government has a long way to go before it can live up to its boast of being a nation that “implements equal rights as a basic state policy,” Wang said.

Widespread discrimination

Rights lawyer Wang Shengsheng said that Chinese women, even very highly qualified ones like herself, still face widespread discrimination in the country’s labor market.

“When clients are looking for a lawyer, they want a man, because they think they’ll do a better job,” she said. “They think that they will work harder on the case, and because they are looking to get a problem sorted, they will look for a man.”

“They think that men are better at organizing their time, and will put in more effort,” she said. “They always think men will have the edge.”

Wang said that the most powerful jobs in the legal profession are usually held by men, while the women hold lower-status positions in law firms.

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