A new law outlawing domestic violence in China just came into effect this March.
It is hoped the new legislation will encourage more victims to come forward and report the violence they face at home.
While the legislation is being seen as a good first step, some say there are some crucial gaps in the law.
And as Abhijan Barua reports from Beijing, cultural factors still prevent some Chinese women from coming forward.
The hotline for the Maple Women’s Psychological Counselling Center in Beijing has been running for more than three decades.
The center provides counselling for the tens of thousands of women who call every year.
But even with the first anti-domestic violence law just passed, many cultural factors still prevent women in China from picking up to the phone to report domestic violence, says Hou Zhi Min, who works at the center.
“The society and the culture, they don’t think a husband abusing his wife is a big problem. Usually after the victims are abused, they’ll return to their parents’ but the response they get is that they’re not doing their job and they’re lazy, so it’s their fault. It’s not the man’s fault,” Hou Zhi Min stated.
In China, just like many other countries, domestic violence is a hidden epidemic.
The All-China Women's Federation estimates that nearly 25 percent of married women in China have experienced domestic violence, but the real figure is likely to be much higher.
Culturally, says Julia Broussard, the country manager at UN Women, domestic violence isn’t openly discussed in China.
“There’s a very deep cultural norm in China that you do not air the dirty laundry of the family. And for that reason, many victims are reluctant to come forward and admit that violence is happening in their family,” Broussard said.
The new law has helped reinforce the idea that domestic violence isn’t just a private, domestic matter.
But critics say the legislation is far from comprehensive.
The new law prohibits all forms of domestic violence, including physical and psychological harm, and verbal abuse.
Yet there is no mention of sexual abuse, or marital rape, says Julia Broussard.
“We were, to be honest, a bit disappointed that sexual violence was not included in the definition of the law. We think that marital rape is a reality and it should be considered a crime just like any other physical violence.”
Under the new law, victims can apply for a restraining order if they are subject to domestic violence, and perpetrators can be criminally liable.
In the past, neither the police nor any other governmental authorities were obligated to take any action in such cases, but now they have to investigate any complaint of domestic violence, gather evidence, and help victims get medical care.
The new law, says Broussard, is just the first of many steps. The next and perhaps the biggest test, is the implementation.
“Unfortunately with domestic violence there are a lot of challenges," Broussard stated.
"You have to raise awareness and do a lot of training of a lot of different people that are responsible for enforcing the law. So the police and the judges, and health workers in hospitals, and local government officials. All of these people have to know what the law means, what it intends and what their responsibilities are."
"And China being a large country, that’s a lot of work,” Broussard concluded.
It’s expected the effects of the law will be seen in a year.
Yet even then, with no reliable national data on domestic violence in China, it will be a challenge to measure.
Organisations like the Maple call center remain focused on helping victims cope. But Hou Zhi Min says obstacles remain even there.
“There are many challenges. Our research has helped put together a model, a guide for victims on how to deal with the abuse."
"But we do feel helpless over the fact that victims who might want shelter after being abused don’t have access to one. There is no such women’s shelter in China, yet,” Hou Zhi Min commented.
And then there’s general awareness among the public. UN Women’s Programme Coordinator Guo Ruixiang says Chinese media could do more.
“All media can play an important role. Social media is now very powerful and also the mainstream media, and like TV stations. And that can really convey the message to the general public and say domestic violence is a crime,” said Guo Ruixiang.
The new law has made domestic violence illegal in China.
But to make it stop, there is still a long way to go.