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China Adopts First Anti-Domestic Violence Law

Activists have welcomed the new law but have also criticized it to failing to address sexual violence or include provisions for gay people.
Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Activists in China have welcomed the country's first law to specifically address domestic violence, although some said it fails to protect gay couples or include acts of sexual violence.

The Anti-Domestic Violence Law, adopted by China's National People's Congress on Sunday, allows survivors of domestic abuse — defined as physical, psychological, or other harm — to file for a restraining order that can force the abuser to move out of the home. Courts must rule within 72 hours of filing. Police must also immediately respond when abuse is reported, once the law officially goes into effect in March.


Campaigners have long sought to get specific domestic violence laws on the books to help mitigate the devastating effects it has had on an estimated one in four married women in China. Domestic violence in the country is thought of as a private matter and had to now only been referenced in other laws addressing matters like marriage or child protection. Previously, violence was not accepted as reasonable grounds for divorce, until marriage law was amended in 2001 to ban domestic abuse.

While many have commended the government for taking long-awaited action, some also criticized the law for failing to specifically address sexual violence. Instead the legislation lists "beatings, restraint or forcible limits on physical liberty, recurring invectives and verbal threats," as examples of domestic violence.

"It cites physical and psychological violence, but it does not say clearly whether sexual violence is also violence," one longtime campaigner Feng Yuan told the Associated Press.

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Others criticized the law for failing to protect gay couples, and for the time it took for the government to institute it — 20 years after Beijing hosted a landmark United Nations conference on women.

"China spent too many years to enact the basic law on women's rights protection, it's really too slow," anti-discrimination group Yirenping said in a statement.

Many Chinese still have difficulty accepting gay people because of traditional family values and a view of homosexuality as abnormal. Chinese culture places great emphasis on raising an heir, and especially with the country's one child policy, which was only recently lifted, many have seen being gay as an end to family succession.

At the Beijing summit two decades ago, countries agreed on the Beijing Platform for Action, which outlined tangible steps to correct the global gender rights imbalance. Gender disparity remains a problem worldwide, and China's patriarchal society still values sons over daughters. In China, gender disparity manifests in many forms, including economic deprivation or imbalance, lack of laws to protect against violence or other rights, and unequal treatment in society.

"While a step in the right direction, the new law lacks a comprehensive definition of domestic violence that is aligned with international approaches and is not fully responsive to domestic concerns raised by women's rights activists, e.g. inclusion of sexual violence and specifically same-sex relationships, former spouses, and non-cohabiting relationships," said Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China.

"As with all legislation, the real test will be how well the new law is implemented," she added. "Given the current attacks on lawyers and restrictions on civil society space, the translation of formal legislation into meaningful protection for citizens is far from guaranteed."