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Domestic abuse plagues China

Publication Date : 14-12-2013


In China, it is not uncommon for parents to discipline their children physically. Hitting means cherishing, scolding means loving, goes the common Chinese saying, "da shi teng, ma shi ai".

What has changed these days though is that children as young as 10 years old are fighting back and hitting their parents instead, say social workers.

In one case this year, a 12-year-old boy beat up his mother after she scolded him for skipping school, said Na Lixin, who is in charge of hotline calls at The Maple Women's Psychological Counselling Centre in Beijing.

"The father and mother fought previously and the child picked this up from them," she told The Straits Times. She has not had complaints about children abusing parents until this year.

This is just one of tens of thousands of domestic violence cases reported in China each year. While public awareness of domestic violence has increased considerably in China over the last decade, many victims still don't get the help and protection they need, partly because of inadequate laws and partly because domestic violence is still often seen as a private family matter, say experts.

China has had an average of 40,000 to 50,000 domestic violence, or jia bao, cases a year in recent years, said the All-China Women's Federation (ACFW). It had announced plans to set up an intervention centre to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25.

An ACWF survey in 2011 found that a quarter of all women have experienced domestic violence, either physical or verbal.

About 200 domestic abuse calls a year were received by the Maple centre, says Na. More than nine in 10 cases involved husbands hitting wives. Husbands may also try to control their wives by not giving them money, she said.

While the numbers have stayed about the same, what is lacking is legislation to punish offenders as well as social services, say activists.

"China in this regard lags behind other developing countries that have serious problems with violence against women, such as India and Bangladesh, which passed an anti-domestic-violence law in 2010," noted former journalist Leta Hong Fincher, who is writing a book about women in China, in an article this year.

While China's Marriage Law was amended to include mention of domestic abuse, it lacks specific provisions on enforcement. The laws don't really provide for protective orders to be issued to ensure the safety of victims.

China also has relatively few shelters for victims of such abuse. In any case, many abused women do not turn to them.

"The take-up rate is very low because people don't know about them," said Na.

Complicated application processes such as those requiring victims to first submit police or medical reports also deter many from seeking help at these shelters, local media reported.

The Chinese reluctance to interfere in another family's business has also made it harder to tackle domestic violence cases, which are often seen as family disputes.

"In China, one saying is: One would rather demolish 10 temples but not a single marriage," Professor Qi Xiaoyu of Anti-Domestic Violence Network in Beijing, told The Straits Times.

Agreeing, Wu Qunfang, also from The Maple Network, said in China, people may intervene if they see a man hitting a woman on the streets. But they won't in the case of a married couple, as they then see it as a private matter.

Activists hope that judges would show more sympathy towards women who "use violence to fight violence".

In January, they campaigned for a Sichuan woman, Li Yan, who killed her abusive husband in 2010 in self-defence, to be spared the death penalty. Thousands like her are in jail for similar reasons.

The problem is that many people, including officials and judges, feel the women must have done something wrong to get beaten up by their spouses, said Na.

One good thing, activists say, is that more women are coming forward to report abuse. As Na said: "It's an improvement that we should encourage. For domestic violence is not just a family's problem but society's problem."


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