Specific law on domestic abuse needed
Updated: 2013-02-07 07:28
By Gao Zhuyuan (China Daily)
The divorce case of the "Crazy English couple" was settled on Sunday with Kim Lee, the abused wife, getting 12 million yuan ($1.93 million) worth of property and 50,000 yuan as compensation for the trauma she suffered. The Beijing court that settled the divorce case also gave Lee the custody of the couple's three daughters and asked Crazy English franchise founder Li Yang to pay 100,000 yuan for each of the girls as annual child support until each reaches 18 years of age.
Though the end of the high-profile divorce saga is good news for domestic violence victims and women activists before Spring Festival, there is no time for celebration especially because there is still no specific legislation against domestic violence. The endeavor to have one, however, is on and last-ditch efforts are being made to save a woman on death row for murdering her abusive husband.
Li Yang was not even present in court when the verdict was passed. The final hearing in the first proceedings of the Crazy English couple case took place in August and was closed to the public on Li's request. Anti-domestic violence activists waited outside for hours, hoping that Lee would emerge to claim "victory" over domestic violence.
But when the moment came, Kim Lee, an American citizen, was looking far from relieved because Li had tried to cover up his acts of violence by saying that what he did was common in Chinese families.
In September 2011, Lee published on weibo photographs of the bruises she had suffered after being beaten up by Li in front of their children. She soon filed for divorce. But it took about a year and half for her divorce case to be steeled.
It has never been easy for Chinese women to fight against domestic violence. Ever since the Crazy English couple's divorce case went public, Lee has become an eloquent campaigner against domestic violence, though she has also come under fire for her activities.
Traditionally, it is taboo to make domestic abuse public because people believe that a family's shame should be confined to the four walls of the house.
The third national survey of All-China Women's Federation on women's social status shows that one in every four married woman has been a victim to domestic abuse, including physical violence, economic control and sexual abuse, at some point in her conjugal life. Some small-scale surveys suggest the figure could be higher, because most victims prefer to seek the help of family and friends, instead of police, to escape domestic abuse.
Raising public awareness is crucial for curbing domestic violence, and civil society has been playing a positive role in this respect. But more efforts have to be made to change things around and make women's life safer at home.
Changes are taking places, though, along with the country's social transformation. Eighty-six percent of the people who responded to another survey conducted by ACWF last year said they wanted domestic violence to be classified as a crime and about 85 percent said there should be specific legislation on domestic violence.
Many victims of domestic violence overcome taboo and weather social scorn to seek justice in court only to be let down by the lack of legal support. Such victims accept violence as a part of their life, or seek divorce to escape physical abuse or commit suicide - in extreme cases, they even kill their abusive husbands in "self-defense", says Feng Yuan, co-founder of Beijing-based Anti-Domestic Violence Network. Forty-one-year-old Li Yan, of Sichuan province, is among those battered wives who have killed their husbands and is reportedly facing imminent execution. But women rights advocates and human rights groups have been appealing to the authorities to grant her clemency.
Chinese laws such as the Marriage Law do have certain clauses to prevent domestic violence against women but they remain symbolic. For instance, Feng says, when a battered Kim Lee went to the local police station with her complaint, the police officers didn't know how to respond and just told her that they could not take action unless her husband showed up.
Existing legislation does not clarify the responsibilities of law enforcement officers and the procedure they should follow to deal with domestic violence cases, says Feng, who has been fighting against domestic violence for more than 10 years.
The good news is that 28 local legislatures at provincial, municipal and autonomous region levels have issued anti-domestic violence regulations. And some pilot courts have been set up to deal with domestic violence cases, with many of them issuing special personal protection orders forbidding abusive husbands from going near their wives.
In a way, local efforts have paved the way for national legislation. The roots of domestic violence against women, however, lie in gender discrimination and the traditional notion that wives are subservient to their husbands. This is true of almost all countries. But most of the countries have made efforts to tackle the scourge of domestic violence. As a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, China should expedite the process of promulgating a national law against domestic violence. The ACWF had been proposing a specific anti-domestic violence law for five years since 2008, before China's top legislature finally included it in the national legislative agenda last year.
Action, though delayed, is better than no action at all. Many issues have to be resolved in the legislative process before a national law is enacted, but one thing is for sure that the resultant legislation will not be of much help to victims of domestic violence unless it has a preventive effect.
The author is a reporter with China Daily. E-mail: email@example.com.
(China Daily 02/07/2013 page9)