Wenzhou City Issues New Domestic Violence Provisions

December 8, 2006

Provisions on Preventing and Stopping Domestic Violence (the provisions) took effect on November 15, 2006, in Wenzhou city, Zhejiang province, according to a November 9 Xinhua article. The provisions charge local government and social organizations with implementing specific measures to prevent domestic violence. Article 23 of the provisions mandates that public security agencies should quickly respond to domestic violence cases; Article 30 directs local civil affairs bureaus to run shelters to house victims temporarily; and Articles 28 and 29 charge judicial administration agencies and legal aid organizations with helping victims who require legal assistance but cannot afford it. Articles 35 through 37 of the provisions mandate that officials responsible for stopping domestic violence should be punished when they fail to handle the case in a timely manner. Article 26 requires medical facilities to keep adequate records that may be used as evidence in a domestic violence case, and Article 23 requires the same of public security agencies.

Approximately 30 percent of the 270 million Chinese families surveyed in a 2004 All-China Women’s Federation survey reported the occurrence of some form of domestic violence, according to a December 17, 2005, People's Daily article (in Chinese). The Marriage Law, Criminal Law, Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women, and Public Security Administration Punishment Law all prohibit domestic violence. A 2001 Supreme People's Court judicial interpretation defines domestic violence as "beating, binding, mutilating, forcibly restricting the personal liberty of, or using other means that result in definite physical, spiritual, or other harm to family members." This definition, however, does not explicitly refer to other forms of abuse, such as rape or sexual violence, that were included in the UN Fourth World Conference on Women's Platform for Action. The World Conference was held in Beijing in 1995.

Article 260 of the Criminal Law classifies domestic violence as a crime, but provides that courts may only accept domestic violence cases under special procedures for "private prosecution" of criminal cases. Under Articles 88 and 170 of the Criminal Procedure Law, a victim of domestic violence may initiate a private prosecution and bypass law enforcement agencies to bring a domestic violence case directly before a court for resolution. Because of the potential of intimidation from the abuser and the difficulty of gathering evidence on their own, however, many victims cannot prosecute successfully, according to a November 24, 2005, Legal Daily article (in Chinese). Many victims also sue with the sole aim of "educating" their abuser and therefore ultimately drop the charges, according to the Legal Daily article.

ome local regulations address the problems victims face in domestic violence lawsuits. To help victims gather evidence of the crime, Shanxi, Qinghai, Henan, and Hainan provinces, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and now Wenzhou city have domestic violence provisions mandating that judicial evaluation agencies should provide an expert evaluation to victims who request it. Except for Henan, these local regulations indicate that this work should be performed at reduced fees for victims with economic hardships. In addition to the five provincial-level areas noted above, four other provincial-level governments, (Heilongjiang, Liaoning, and Hubei provinces, and Chongqing municipality) have detailed domestic violence regulations enacted since 2003 that include some or all of the following provisions: government-run shelters, timely police response, protection of a victim’s right to privacy, legal aid for victims, and punishment under the relevant criminal and administrative provisions for officials whose neglect of their duties in domestic violence cases leads to severe injury. Moreover, Wuhan city, in Hubei province, has adopted detailed regulations to address problems in prosecution of domestic violence cases. In addition to mandating a swift police response, the Wuhan regulations instruct police to separate husband and wife during questioning, and mandate that the local women's federation and public security bureaus establish a joint center to direct anti-domestic violence efforts.