Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Population

RIGHTS-CHINA: For Too Many, Domestic Violence Part of Family Life

Mitch Moxley

BEIJING, Oct 5 2010 (IPS) - Despite successful campaigns to promote gender equality, China continues to struggle with high rates of domestic violence, which experts say impacts not only families but society as a whole.

One-third of Chinese households cope with domestic abuse, both physical and psychological, according to a national survey by the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF), the largest women’s non-government organisation in China.

The study found that the violence mostly takes place in rural areas, in young families and in households with lower educational levels. Men commit 90 percent of the violent acts, the study found.

Another study conducted by the China Law Institute in Gansu, Hunan and Zhejiang provinces found that one-third of the families surveyed had experienced family violence and that 85 percent of the victims were women. It found that domestic abuse was so prevalent that both men and women identified it as a part of normal family life. Just 5 percent of respondents said their marriage was unhappy.

Domestic violence “has a pernicious influence on families and society as a whole. It threatens social stability, imperils marriages and threatens children’s well-being,” said Xu Rong, chief of the projects section at the Beijing Cultural Development Centre for Rural Women.

In rural areas in particular, the long-standing idea that women should be in subordinate positions to men is a primary contributor to abuse. In China, as in many other countries, domestic violence is considered a private matter and this makes it difficult for women in distress to seek help.

Domestic violence is also a main contributor to high rates of suicide among women in rural areas.

According to a report posted on Da Ai Net, a news portal that focuses on mental health and family education, about 157,000 Chinese women kill themselves each year, and the rate of suicide is three to five times higher in rural areas than urban centres.

According to one survey based on 260 cases of suicide among rural women, 66 percent had been victims of domestic violence. Xie Lihua, editor of ‘Rural Women’ magazine and secretary-general of the Development Centre for Rural Women, attributed the violence to the traditional belief that boys are more valuable that girls, the subordinate position of women in the countryside and the lack of assistance available to abused women, according to Da Ai Net.

But there is evidence that domestic violence is prevalent in higher-income families as well. A survey by the Guangdong Municipal Women’s Federation showed that of 548 cases of household abuse, 111 had members with college diplomas, 72 were public servant households and 88 of the households had incomes above 2,000 yuan (298 U.S. dollars) per month.

China’s constitution stipulates that “women in the P.R.C. (People’s Republic of China) enjoy equal rights to men in all spheres of life.” But until recently, there were no laws specifically addressing domestic violence in China, said Li Yinhe, China’s first female sociologist who currently works as a researcher and mentor to doctoral students at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Sociology.

In 2001, an amendment to the marriage law included the term “domestic violence” for the first time in Chinese law. In that same year, stipulations about domestic violence appeared for the first time in an amendments to the General Provisions of the Marriage Law.

China has since signed The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and has its own stand-alone laws that ban domestic violence against women and children.

An alliance of civil society organisations was recently created to conduct a project they call ‘Domestic Violence in China: Research, Intervention and Prevention’, and Chinese courts are starting to tackle the problem.

In August 2008, a court in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, issued China’s first court order on the protection of personal safety when it prohibited a husband from beating or humiliating his wife.

Xu, whose work focuses primarily on suicide prevention in rural areas, said that despite still high rates of domestic violence, there have been significant improvements in recent years. Notably, increased rural incomes have helped alleviate the problem somewhat.

Still, much more needs to be done.

Li said China needs to increase funds for women’s shelters and promote gender education. Xu added that China should also strengthen its laws against domestic violence, and promote prevention and protection. “We need to spread the idea that domestic violence is illegal across the whole society,” Xu said.

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