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Domestic violence pushes China to vary marriage law

The Straits Times, 26 July 2000

Violence in families has been growing steadily as Beijing's embrace of a sink-or-swim market economy has increased domestic financial pressure

HONGKONG -- Family violence strikes nearly one in three families in China, a growing problem which is pushing Beijing to amend its 20-year-old marriage laws.

The amendment is also aimed at dealing with social problems such as bigamy, concubinage and shirking the responsibility of taking care of the elderly.

It is our priority to enlist banning family violence as an essential part of the revised marriage law, said Mr Hu Kangsheng, deputy director of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People's Congress.

Serious injuries caused by domestic violence are rising rapidly. One hundred thousand out of the country's 270 million families become broken families each year because of family violence.

The South China Morning Post reported that family violence occurred in 30 per cent of mainland families, according to surveys conducted by the All-China Women's Federation.

Victims include wives and husbands, but are mostly female.

According to official figures, domestic assaults resulted in 14 deaths and 240 injuries between 1995 and 1999.

Legislators believe that the number of abuse cases is much higher than official figures show.

Domestic violence has grown steadily in recent years as the country's embrace of a sink-or-swim market economy has increased family financial pressures and seen a rise in the trend of keeping mistresses.

Reacting to the level of domestic violence, the Hunan People's Congress on March 31 enacted laws setting out penalties and the role of the police, the procurator and other government agencies in dealing with the problem.

While 13 cities and counties have passed regulations against domestic violence, the Hunan action was the first at provincial level and may help bring about national legislation, the Post added.

But Mr Hu said while legal experts agreed on banning family violence, there was controversy about how it should be defined.

Some legislators still have a disagreement on whether some abuses, such as a sexual act not consented to by the wife, constitute family violence, Mr Hu said.

Officials and experts also advocate that the new law should include penalties to deter perpetrators and policies to aid victims, such as providing shelters for battered victims.

Due to the complexity of the revision, the amendment is not expected to be tabled to the Standing Committee of the NPC before early next year.

Despite the severity of domestic violence, courts in Guangdong province handled only seven cases last year, the Hongkong daily reported.