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Sub-anchor: Effectiveness of Chinese laws against abuse


11-25-2016 12:55 BJT

My colleague Guan Yang joins me now in the studio to share more details on the subject.

Q1. Guan Yang, China passed its first-ever national law against domestic violence in March. Under the new law, domestic violence is no longer considered a "family matter." It's now a legal issue that demands action from the courts and the police. But how effective has the new law been?

GuanYang: Domestic violence has no geographical boundaries, age limits or color bar. It affects family relationships in every corner of the world. Let me highlight some facts and figures on the situation in China. These are from the All-China Women's Federation: about one-in-four Chinese women have suffered violence in their marriages; while almost 90 percent of reported cases involve the abuse of women, children or elderly people. To break that down further, more than 40 percent of children between 10-17 years were abused by their parents, while 14 percent of seniors aged 65 and above had been abused at home. The term “family violence” – the Chinese translation for abuse in the home - reflects the narrow perception of domestic violence. For a long time, abuse wasn't considered grounds for divorce, and violence in the home has been regarded as a private matter to be dealt with by family members. The public became more informed as cases like the high-profile divorce of Li Yang, the founder of "Crazy English" teaching method and his American wife Kim Lee, forced the issue out of the shadows. The new law helped society take a significant step forward by legally defining domestic violence as physical and psychological abuse of family members. The enactment marks a vital turning point in addressing domestic violence in China.

The law does contain some strict measures against domestic violence. For instance, police can issue written warnings, or in severe cases victims can apply for protection orders from the local courts. But what really happens afterwards? Are there problems when enforcing the protection orders?

Guanyang: Let's recap some of the strong points of China's first anti-domestic violence law. In the majority of cases in China, victims are often unable to leave the abusive relationship or disclose their suffering. The new law allows close family members of the victim to report and file a case. In addition, authorities are required to directly intervene in suspected cases involving those with no or limited capacity, namely minors, seniors, and persons with disabilities or critical illnesses. However, when it comes to implementing the civil protection order, to a certain extent the local courts can still be ineffectual.

When love turns into hate, remaining in a relationship can become suicidal. Li Hang was the first judge to close a domestic violence case and sign the civil protection order in Liaoning province, since the new law was implemented. The judge thinks, without outside assistance, whatever was written on the protection order can be useless.

"The court cannot act as the bodyguard of victims after the civil protection order was issued... We need help from relevant bodies like the police and community services to enforce the protection measures properly," Li said.

By law, the court is solely responsible for executing the civil protection measures, like prohibiting the abuser from approaching the victim and paying for costs resulting from the abuse. One officer from the local women's federation explains why, in practice, the court is unable to fulfill these duties on its own.

"If the order cannot reach the people around the victims, like doctors and nurses, the police, the relatives, then protection measures only stay on paper. Because it is the people that protect the victims, not the order," Liu Chi with Women's Federation of Huanggu District in Shenyang said.

Her words were proven: Joint-efforts have helped prevent further abuse of the victim. The first civil protection order in Liaoning province was implemented smoothly.

And meanwhile, the role of the police officer in fighting domestic violence shouldn't be neglected, because most of the time when the abuse happens, victims call the police first. Lu Zhenwei, an officer who has been dedicated to fighting domestic violence, said: Prevention is better than punishment.

For people like police officer Lu Zhenwei -- who works on the front line against domestic violence -- preventative measures together with psychological guidance are tools to help mend broken relationships. The law is only enforced in worst-case scenarios...

"In a traditional Chinese proverb, we say, 'If the family lives in harmony, all affairs will prosper.' So I always believe the principle against domestic violence is to resolve family conflicts. Protection orders should only be implemented when psychological mediations fail," Lu Zhenwei, police officer of Shandongmiao Police Station in Shenyang, said.

Just like other new laws rolled out in the past, building a successful law enforcement system requires significant investments of time, funding, and human resources. While the new law marks a crucial turning point in addressing domestic violence in China, there is a long journey ahead.

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