Recently published Guidelines on Preventing and Deterring Domestic Violence stipulate that police should set up emergency response units to address the problem, including the ability to respond to 110 emergency calls, according to a report in China Youth Daily on September 8, 2008.
Published by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, the Ministry of Public Security and the All China Women's Federation, the Guidelines provide public security departments with ground rules for dealing with domestic violence.
But China is in the early stages of tackling this problem and the issue remains controversial. What counts as domestic violence? If a husband gives his wife a slap on the cheek after a quarrel, should that be called domestic violence? The public is divided on the issue.
The concept of domestic violence was introduced into China by the fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. The new Guidelines have now officially defined domestic violence as a family member physically or psychologically dominating another by beating, binding, harming, limiting freedom by force or other means that lead to harmful results.
Associate professor Qi Xiaoyu, an expert on domestic violence, said domestic violence takes four main forms: the first is the physical violence, second is the mental cruelty, which may take the form of abuse, separation, infidelity and so on. The third form is economic control when, for instance, a spouse without a job is economically controlled by the other and allowed limited freedom. The fourth is sexual violence when a spouse is forced to have sex.
A recent case illustrates the misery created by long term domestic violence. On August 27, 2008, Wan Xiang was sentenced to 3-years imprisonment with 5 years probation for murdering her husband. The investigation revealed that the Wan, from northwestern Gansu Province, was continually beaten and mistreated during her ten year marriage. Her husband also abused and hit their daughter, a diabetes sufferer, and their disabled son. He even brought other women home and cohabited with them. Finally in September 2007, finding her situation intolerable, Wan Xiang beat her husband to death with a hammer in the early hours of the morning.
Qi said that in this case the court had taken into account the defendant's suffering when deciding the verdict and sentence. But the tragedy only happened because there had been no effective deterrent against the husband's long-term violence.
The Guidelines rule that public security departments should set up domestic violence centers staffed by police at all times and ready to respond to a 110 call. Any officers disobeying this regulation will be punished according to the Security Administration Punishment Law, and those who commit crimes will be liable to prosecution.
Police, as is well known, commonly consider domestic violence a "family affair", a private matter that is not their business. Current regulations set out in the Constitution and the Marriage Law of China make only passing references to the problem. Police officers claim they are unable to act in many cases due to the unwillingness of people to take legal action against their spouses. Wives often call the police but are then unwilling to see their husbands taken into custody.
Qi said, "Domestic violence occurs in all regions and in all social groups; among the well-educated and well-off as well as the poor." The respectable façade of middle class abusers adds to the difficulties faced by police trying to execute the law. The Guidelines will be a great encouragement to better enforcement.
So far 25 provinces, districts and cities in China have defined local guidelines on preventing and deterring domestic violence, and assigned responsibilities for executing the guidelines to specific departments.
The All China Women's Federation said they plan to establish trial response centers soon and will conduct a series of investigations this year to discuss the necessity, feasibility, main provisions, and key points of a future anti-domestic violence law.
(China.org.cn by Zhou Jing, September 8, 2008)