The Chinese government is consulting the public on a draft of a national Law on Family Violence, the first law of its kind in the country.
The draft gives social organizations and individuals the right to dissuade, prevent and report physical and psychological abuse from within the victims' family. Governments at all levels will allocate funds to combat family violence, according to the draft, published by the legislative affairs office of the State Council.
Police will be obliged to step in immediately when such a report is filed, and victims may apply for special restrictive measures against their abusers, such as restraining orders. Abusers will receive written reprimands in minor cases or face criminal charges, in line with current law, in serious cases.
China's regulations governing offences against public order stipulate that those who abuse family members should receive warnings and could be detained for up to five days at the request of the victims. They could also face criminal detention, public surveillance and prison sentences of up to two years in extreme circumstances under the current criminal law, or a fixed-term imprisonment of up to seven years should their abuses lead to serious injury or death.
China does not have a specialized law on family abuse, although a number of national laws and regulations - including the Marriage Law, the Law on the Protection of Minors and the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women - make references to the matter.
Family violence has remained in the shadows for a long time in China, where the culture holds that family conflicts are embarrassing private matters. Only in recent years have the Chinese people begun to examine the issue.
In 2011 Kim Lee, wife of celebrity entrepreneur Li Yang who founded the hugely popular English learning program "Crazy English", posted pictures of her bruised face on Sina Weibo and accused Li of domestic violence. Many people were shocked and urged Kim to use the law as the weapon. Li Yang's response was even more shocking. He admitted beating his wife but blamed her for breaking the Chinese tradition of not disclosing family affairs to the public. In 2013, Kim was granted a divorce, alimony and compensation by a Chinese court on the grounds of domestic violence.
A 2010 survey conducted by the All-China Women's Federation and the National Bureau of Statistics said 33.5 percent of girls and 52.9 percent of boys polled had received "physical punishments" from their parents in a 12-month period.
A report by China Central Television (CCTV) on Tuesday cited another survey saying 13.3 percent of Chinese elders suffer from abuse by their families.
After the draft law was published, the All-China Women's Federation issued a statement of firm support. "Domestic violence is not a family dispute, rather, it is aggression against people's rights and should be resolved with legal measures," said the statement.
"Current laws and regulations concerning domestic violence are vague and not nearly enough to solve practical problems," said Chen Aihua, head of Shenzhen-based Pengxing Domestic Violence Prevention Center.
Chen Wei from Southwest University of Political Science & Law, said a law cannot remove a deep-rooted social belief that conflict between a couple is not a legal issue.
"The law can help judges and police deal with such matters, such as obliging them to obtain evidence when such matters happen," said Chen.
According to the draft, social aid organizations, primary and middle schools, kindergartens and medical institutions must report to authorities cases of family abuse and could bear legal liabilities should they fail to do so in a timely manner, resulting in "serious consequences".
Government, judicial and other related authorities must provide medical treatment, legal aid and judicial assistance to family abuse victims, and should protect the victims' rights in terms of property division and child custody should domestic violence lead to divorce.
The law also applies to foster homes, the legislative affairs office said, but the rules do not cover those who are cohabiting or are already divorced.
According to the office, members of the public can voice their comments on the proposal until Dec. 25.