China’s first law against domestic violence will undergo review at the National People’s Congress (NPC) this August.
The proposed legislation gives victims of violence access to redress and protection, including restraining orders, and requires local governments to set up more shelters.
Surveys show that between 25 percent and 40 percent of women in China suffer domestic violence, and while the statistics match up with those reported in countries around the world, many believe that China’s traditionally insular family structure leads to a significant under-reporting of such cases.
And when women do report instances of domestic violence, police and local governments are often slow, if not entirely ineffective, at responding to cases.
Feng Yuan, one of China’s most prominent feminists and co-founder of the Anti-Domestic Violence Network, recalls when she first brought up the issue twenty years ago. Officials would often dismiss her, making the same joke, “Domestic violence? You mean women beating up their husbands?”
Since then, progress has been slow–the only legislation currently related to the issue bans domestic violence but does not define the term in any legally enforceable way.
“Domestic violence is society’s secret anguish, and something all modern governments should face,” NPC spokeswoman Fu Ying said Wednesday. “Even the process of discussing the law is spreading positive energy and knowledge.”
The new law, however, has also drawn criticism for its focus on violence between married couples (the legislation largely excludes divorced or dating couples from its language). Critics also point to the law’s failure to outlaw marital rape as well as its emphasis on the police’s responsibility, rather than the duties of health and social services, to respond to reports.
As Cai Yiping, a leading women’s activist, told the Washington Post, the new draft law feels like “a big leap forward” but is far from the end of the story. “It is like a fruit that is not ripe, it tastes a bit sour.”