China's New Domestic Violence Law – The Good, The Bad, and the Vague

On Sunday, China passed its first law prohibiting domestic violence and offering protection for victims of domestic abuse. It might be hard to believe, but before Sunday, there was no law prohibiting domestic violence in China.

As far as authorities were concerned, a husband beating his wife was not breaking the law. Women who did seek help were often told to go back home to their abusers. Thanks to several high-profile cases in recent years of horrific instances of spousal and child abuse and the work of women’s rights groups, a new law is now in effect. But what does this law mean exactly and what are its flaws?

The Good

China now has a domestic violence law! This is good. Any law on the books is better than none.

The new law will provide protection for abuse victims and allow abusers to be charged with abuse. The law covers men and women. While it is unlikely that man men will take advantage of the protections the law allows, I was impressed that the law took men in abusive relationships into account. This is very important considering that before last year, men could not legally be considered rape victims. The gender-neutral stance of the law is a big step forward.

The law also grants protection to victims who are not legally married. Cohabitation without marriage is on the rise in China, and barely a day goes by that I don’t read about a Chinese woman being murdered by her boyfriend. The fact that the law will allow unmarried women protection from abusive men who are not their husbands is a great addition to the law (one that wasn’t in the initial drafts).

The law also protects children, not only from abusive parents but from abusive guardians, even those the child may not be related to. In a country with millions of “left behind children,” this was also an important addition.

The law will also allow abuse to be a mitigating factor in divorce proceedings. Previously, a partner’s abuse was not taken into consideration when granting divorces or divorce settlements.

The Bad

The law doesn’t actually go into effect until March. So, I guess, beat your wife while you can?

The law doesn’t cover same-sex couples. It isn’t just that the law is vague and doesn’t mention them one way or another, the law explicitly doesn’t apply. Guo Linmao, a member of the Legislative Affairs Commission of parliament’s standing committee, said, “There are a lot of examples of domestic violence between family members, and also between people who cohabit. As for homosexuals in our country, we have not yet discovered this form of violence, so to give you a certain answer, it can be said that people who cohabit does not include homosexuals.”

So according to Guo, homosexual couples don’t experience violence so they don’t need protection.

This is, of course, wrong and blatant misdirection. Many rights groups in China have latched on to this issue, so maybe someday the law will be expanded to include them.

The Vague

The law does not explicitly protect people from sexual violence. The law defines domestic violence as “physical, psychological and other harm inflicted by family members with beatings, restraint or forcible limits on physical liberty.” While “physical” harm could include sexual violence, the fact that the law doesn’t specifically list sexual violence is worrisome. Even countries such as the United States that have made marital rape illegal continue to grapple with this issue. The is something that China’s leaders need to clarify sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, it is unlikely any changes will be made to the law anytime soon. We will have to wait and see how judges interpret the law to see if it covers sexual violence. Hopefully it will.  

Have you looked over China’s new domestic abuse law? What do you think? Let me know in the comments!