The standing committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp legislature, adopted Sunday the Anti-Domestic Violence Law, which defines family abuse and streamlines the process for obtaining restraining orders — measures long advocated by campaigners.
Previously the issue was only referred to in separate laws and regulations addressing other matters such as marriage and protection of children, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Nearly a quarter of Chinese women who are married have experienced domestic violence, figures from the Communist Party-linked All-China Women’s Federation showed, according to Xinhua.
But the issue has long been sidelined as a private matter. Without a legal definition of the term, many victims — if they report abuse at all — have been shuffled from police to women’s federation to neighbourhood committee, with authorities reluctant to intervene unless serious injury is involved.
Less than two decades ago, physical abuse was not even acceptable as grounds for divorce in China, and it was not until 2001 that the marriage law was amended to explicitly ban domestic violence for the first time.
The new law, which will take effect from March, defines domestic violence as “physical, psychological and other harm inflicted by family members with beatings, restraint or forcible limits on physical liberty, recurring invectives and verbal threats”, according to Xinhua.
It obliges police to step in immediately when a report of abuse is filed, it reported.
But anti-discrimination group Yirenping said the law was “far from enough” since some forms of abuse, such as sexual violence and domestic violence between same-sex couples, were not addressed.
It also came no less than 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,” Yirenping said in a statement.