Caixin
Sep 28, 2021 08:55 PM
CHINA

Eying a Falling Birth Rate, China Vows to Get Tougher on Domestic Violence

The State Council released guidelines Monday that aim to promote gender equality and “healthy” family relationships. Photo: VCG
The State Council released guidelines Monday that aim to promote gender equality and “healthy” family relationships. Photo: VCG

China has vowed to strengthen enforcement of its law against domestic violence amid accusations about the ineffectiveness of current legal safeguards after a rise in cases.

The State Council, China’s cabinet, released guidelines Monday that aim to promote gender equality and “healthy” family relationships, both factors that are seen to be key to improving the country’s low birth rate.

Domestic violence is considered to be a significant factor that deters married women from having children, a decision out of step with China’s recent major policy shift to allow couples to have up to three children.

The guidelines require authorities to improve a system that allows multiple departments to collaborate to prevent domestic violence as well as to issue judicial interpretations, guidelines and rules to better enforce the Anti-Domestic Violence Law.

According to the guidelines, authorities should also improve systems for detecting, reporting and dealing with domestic violence, strengthening the awareness of “mandatory reporting” among institutions which have close contact with women who are, or are suspected of being, victims of such abuse.

Chinese authorities have been working to reduce domestic violence cases, with an anti-domestic violence law — the first of its kind — taking effect in 2016. Although the legislation stipulated several measures, such as protection orders to ensure victims’ safety, they haven’t worked well in the past few years.

The All China Women’s Federation reported receiving nearly 40,000 claims of domestic violence in 2018 and some 36,000 claims in 2019.

China recorded more than 1,200 deaths from domestic violence within three years after the law was implemented in 2016, 76% of whom were women, according to a 2020 report (link in Chinese) by Equality, a nonprofit organization established to safeguard women’s rights.

Feng Yuan, co-founder of Equality and a feminist activist, said during an interview with the Shanghai-based media outlet Sixth Tone that although the approval rate of restraining orders nationwide was about 66% in 2019, it dropped to just 33% in some places.

Currently, systems enabling government departments to work together to fight domestic abuse do not exist or aren’t being effectively implemented in many locations, Feng said, noting that the departments sometimes tend to pass the buck among themselves.

In an interview with official newspaper the Beijing News, Liu Qun, a judge in the central city of Changsha, said Chinese courts have faced difficulties in carrying out protection orders, such as suspected perpetrators “violently” rejecting the orders.

The new guidelines urge authorities to issue protection orders on time, increase the audit insurance rate and strengthen efforts to enforce the law.

Other measures to support women victims include promoting mental comfort and life relief for them, as well as giving more psychological counseling to perpetrators to correct their behavior.

The country is grappling with both a low fertility rate of 1.3, revealed in the seventh national census, well short of the replacement rate of 2.1, and a decline in the number of women willing to give birth.

The world’s most populous nation has rolled out several supportive measures to encourage people to have more children to ease the population crisis which has led to a declining labor force, the main engine of economic growth.

The guidelines also said authorities would reduce the number of abortions performed for “non-medical purposes” in an effort to “enhance maternal reproductive health.”

On the same day as the guidelines were released, Huang Xiaowei, deputy director of the State Council’s national working committee on women and children, said at a press conference that China should further implement the “basic national policy of gender equality and the principle of giving priority to children.”

Contact reporter Wang Xintong (xintongwang@caixin.com) and editor Michael Bellart (michaelbellart@caixin.com)

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