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Murder of Chinese woman results in anti-violence bill

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Summary of story from WomenseNews, August 3, 2011

The death of a young bride in China has become a catalyst for national legislation on domestic violence in the country.

On July 14, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee included an anti-domestic violence law in its legislative agenda.

In 2009, Dong Shanshan, a twenty-nine year old died after being repeatedly beaten by her husband and who kidnapped her when she escaped.

The police did not respond to any of her eight calls, saying they did not want to intervene in the affairs of a married couple. They were only willing to listen when she was found on her deathbed with a belly swollen from a haemorrhage.

The new legislation, if passed, will provide a clear definition of domestic violence, including physical, mental and sexual abuse. It will also specify punishments. Existing laws prohibit domestic violence but only in vague terms.

Lv Xiaoquan, research director at the Center for Women’s Law Studies and Legal Services of Peking University, which offers legal aid to women said:

“Dong’s case revealed so many hidden problems about domestic violence in China. The biggest question is the police: Should they intervene in violence in the family, and how?”

He added that the new law will only be effective if those executing it truly understand the severity of violence against women.

A 2007 survey by the All China Women’s Federation found that a third of Chinese families suffer from domestic violence, but few victims find protection under the law.

A 2010 study by the Shenzhen Intermediate Court found three-quarters of domestic violence lawsuits fail in court. Lai, a judge at Shenzhen Intermediate Court said most cases fall apart because of insufficient evidence.

He added: “Many victims don’t save the evidence or call the police in time, which makes it difficult to differentiate domestic violence from normal family quarrel.”

In 2010, after the high-profile death of Dong, the Center for Women’s Law Studies and Legal Services started projects in Hu’nan and Yunnan provinces to educate judges and the police about domestic violence.

The government needs to step in and spread the training across the country, Lv says.

“Dong’s tragic death shocked the police as well,” he says. “She was a victim herself, but hopefully her tragedy will bring some real progress.”

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