Family violence reports spiral as authorities awaken to issue

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 August, 2007, 12:00am

One spring night, Yang Yun finally dialled a domestic violence hotline in Shenzhen after sitting for hours on a rock on Dameisha beach.

She told the operator she had gone to the beach to take her life.

Ms Yang had been beaten up a few hours earlier by her husband and had had enough, but she decided against suicide for the sake of her child. 'I can't remember how many times he has beaten me. I just can't stand it any more,' she cried on the phone.

There are no police figures available on attacks within the family but the All-China Women's Federation received about 50,000 complaints concerning domestic violence in 2005 and 2006, the federation's deputy chairwoman, Mo Wenxiu, told Xinhua.

She said complaints rose more than 70 per cent in each of those two years and more than a quarter of the 400,000 divorces on the mainland every year were caused by domestic violence.

Ms Yang's case was never reported to the federation, indicating that the real number of victims across the country might be far higher than the official figures.

Shenzhen lawyer Liu Weiming was the operator who took Ms Yang's call and helped her end her unfortunate marriage.

Mr Liu said Ms Yang was beaten by her husband, a master's degree holder, for about two years after she discovered he had been having affairs.

'It's a very hard decision for these victims like Yang Yun to end their marriage,' he said.

'They prefer to endure the violence rather than let others know their family is broken.'

Ms Yang initially put on a brave face and weathered the problem, hoping she could change her husband's behaviour.

'I refused to divorce at first because our daughter was too young and I had no job,' she said.

'I thought my tolerance and gentleness would make him stop the violence.

'But the violence became more frequent and serious. On the last night he threatened to stab me. My heart died at that moment.'

Mr Liu said rather than improving the situation, tolerance often resulted in increased violence.

'It's always just pushing or shoving at the beginning, then slapping and kicking,' he said.

'If there is no outside force, from social workers or the police, the result can be fatal.'

In Shenzhen, 26 people died from domestic abuse in the first half of the year, accounting for 13 per cent of the city's violent deaths, according to Xinhua.

Increasingly, mainland media is reporting on murders involving violence between family members.

Last week, a man killed himself by jumping off a building in Shenzhen after seriously injuring his wife with a knife.

She had wanted a divorce to escape his violence.

In June, a woman beaten by her husband for years tried to kill herself and her daughter by lying on a railway track, but the train stopped in time.

The women's federation estimates there is domestic violence in 30 per cent of the 320 million families on the mainland.

Liu Fang, head of the marital committee of the Shenzhen Lawyers' Association, said the figure was a reminder of how serious the situation was throughout the country.

Ms Liu said women, some highly educated, were usually victims because of their physical disadvantage and financial dependence on their partners.

She also said domestic violence appeared to be on the rise in the past few years in more developed parts of the country.

'People used to think that only poor, rude men hit their wives because they were rooted in the traditional concept of the husband having the right to control the wife,' Ms Liu said.

'It's not true. Rich men's wealth and affairs account for a lot of domestic violence in developed areas. Violence can happen in any kind of family.'

Ms Liu said the rise in violence was posing an increasingly serious threat to social stability, with children, the elderly and especially women the major victims.

She said the mainland had laws and regulations concerning domestic violence, but there were too few details in the legislation for prevention and punishment.

Last month, nine state bodies, including the All-China Women's Federation and the Ministry of Public Security, issued guidelines that provided a legal basis for police intervention.

Under the new policy, police officers who respond inadequately to family violence complaints will face punishment.

Zhejiang's provincial legislature also passed a resolution on the prevention of family violence last month in response to the number of incidents in the province.

Under the new rules, beating, tying up and restricting the freedom of a relative is defined as domestic violence.

Ms Liu welcomed the guidelines and the resolution but said the authorities should do more to help victims and deter perpetrators.

Tip of the iceberg

Recognition of domestic violence is growing on the mainland

Number of complaints about domestic violence received by the All-China Women's Federation in 2005 and 2006 50,000

The percentage by which complaints rose in each of those two years 70%

Of the 320 million families on the mainland, the federation estimated that domestic violence occurred in 96m