China Cites 16-Year-Old Domestic Violence Survey to Criticize U.S. Human Rights

By Patrick Goodenough | April 12, 2011 | 4:32 AM EDT

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( – In its annual rejoinder to the State Department’s report on human rights in China, Beijing’s communist government states that “one in four women [in the U.S.] is a victim of domestic violence.”

It attributes the figure to a CNN program on domestic violence from last October. That report cited the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), which in turn bases its data on a report by the Department of Justice and others, examining the results of a 1995-1996 survey.

That 16-year-old telephone survey found that 22.1 percent of women in the U.S. – a slightly smaller proportion than the “one of four” cited by CNN, NNEDV and China – had been “physically assaulted by an intimate at some time in their lifetime” (along with 7.4 percent of men).

Meanwhile, a much more up-to-date survey on domestic violence in China found that such violence was being reported in 31 percent of China’s 270 million families. In some rural areas the figure rose to around 62 percent of women.

The survey was carried out in 2008 by the All China Women's Federation (ACWF), a body set up and controlled by the Communist Party of China.

The ACWF reports that its branches across the country receive between 40,000 and 50,000 complaints each year about domestic violence – more than those relating to any other issue.

Homepage of China's Anti-Domestic Violence Network Web site (Image: ADVN)

Last month, the head of a Chinese non-governmental organization called the Anti-Domestic Violence Network (ADVN) told China Radio International that one in three Chinese women had been physically abused.

Unlike the case in the U.S., no specific national legislation against domestic violence exists in China.

Aspects of domestic violence are touched on in other laws, including the 1981 Marriage Law which was amended in 2000 to include a prohibition on domestic violence, but without defining it or procedures on tackling it. (In a national survey conducted by the AWCF ahead of the amendments, five percent of respondents said that if a man beats his wife it is no-one else’s business.)

The ACWF, ADVN and other bodies have been trying without success for years to have a law enacted dealing specifically with the offense, including means of protection for victims and responsibilities of state agencies in dealing with the problem.

President Hu Jintao, second left, and Premier Wen Jiabao, second right, sing the national anthem during the opening session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, in Beijing. (AP Photo)

A draft bill was presented in 2003 to the annual session of the National Legislative Congress (NPC) – the 3,000-member legislative body that serves largely a rubber-stamp for Communist Party policy – but was unsuccessful.

A new draft was submitted to the NPC last month, seeking to define domestic violence, and to allow victims to apply for court injunctions to protect them from abusive partners or former partners, a novel concept in Chinese law.

The 2011 NPC session ended without any progress on the issue, however.

An editorial in the state-run China Daily last December warned of the consequences of violence in the home, including depression, suicide, retaliatory violence, and emotional and psychological damage to children that could in turn lead to them abusing their spouses when they grow up

“It’s time to stop beating about the bush on domestic violence and believing that legislators cannot take action needed to make homes a safer place,” the editorial said. “We need to change the law and the backward attitude of the people both.”

In the U.S., Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. It was reauthorized in both 2000 and 2005.

Watched by members of Congress and First Lady Laura Bush, President Bush signs into law legislation that reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act for fiscal years 2007-2011, on January 5, 2006. (Photo: White House)

The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) was created to implement the legislation and subsequent initiatives. According to a Department of Justice fact sheet, it helps “communities around the country to facilitate the creation of programs, policies, and practices aimed at ending domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.”

The OVW defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.”

US rights report ‘hegemonistic’

Every year since 2000 China’s cabinet, the State Council, has responded to the annual State Department human rights report – which this year covers more than 190 countries around the world – with one of its own, focusing solely on the U.S.

Prepared in advance, the reports are usually released within a day or two of the U.S. one. This year’s edition appeared on Sunday, two days after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled the mammoth 2010 State Department report.

The Chinese report listed violence against women in the U.S. along with other issues – ranging from homelessness and violent crime to the amount of money spent in political campaigns – to back its assertion that the U.S. has a “dismal record” and should stop criticizing the human rights records of others.

“We hereby advise the U.S. government to take concrete actions to improve its own human rights conditions, check and rectify its acts in the human rights field, and stop the hegemonistic deeds of using human rights issues to interfere in other countries' internal affairs,” the report concludes.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow