January 02, 2012

Chinese Legislators, Advocates Examine U.S. Domestic Violence Legislation and Its Implementation

January 2012

From November 8–16, 2011, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), in partnership with UNICEF, brought a 10-person Chinese delegation on a study tour to Washington, DC, and Boston, Massachusetts. The tour focused on combating domestic violence through legislation and coordinated community response. Participants included scholars, advocates, judges and experts from China’s National People’s Congress and Women’s Federation.

The study tour focused on combating domestic violence through legislation and coordinated community response.

The tour was designed to provide a comparative context for ongoing reform efforts in China aimed at the development of national domestic-violence legislation that also ensures child welfare and protection. The delegation met with U.S. lawyers, judges, scholars and representatives of non-governmental organizations and government agencies and discussed the role of grassroots advocacy in the development of state-level and national legislation, best practices for effective coordination among government and non-government actors, and programs to prevent and respond to domestic violence.

Domestic violence affects approximately one-third of Chinese women and households. Though Chinese law explicitly prohibits domestic violence and ascribes criminal liability in cases of “severe harm,” the current legal framework fails to clearly and adequately define domestic violence. It also fails to set forth enforceable avenues for redress and specific duties and responsibilities of relevant government departments. Since 2007, the All China Women’s Federation and other stakeholders have been pushing for the adoption of a national domestic-violence law. Additionally, China’s National People’s Congress has recently signaled that anti-domestic violence legislation is a priority for 2012. The November study tour gave the delegation an opportunity to share the context, scope and implementation of U.S. domestic-violence legislation as China refines its policy and legislative approaches.

The delegates said that they found it useful to learn more about how the U.S. national domestic-violence legal framework—reflected in the Violence Against Women Act—provides greater support to the enforcement of state laws and the provision of services throughout the country. They also said that it was interesting to learn of government agencies and non-governmental organizations that have specialized technical units working on domestic violence, the coordination among those units and their contributions in serving vulnerable populations.

Several of the meetings focused on state-level coordination, including efforts by domestic violence units within the courts, police departments, hospitals and social service agencies, and the higher level of impact that can be achieved by entities with clear mandates. Other meetings addressed how national level government and non-government agencies—such as the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, the American Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence and its Center on Children and the Law, and the White House’s Office on Violence Against Women—have provided leadership on a range of advocacy and policy initiatives and program implementation.

The Chinese experts said that they were impressed with the emphasis on frequent, specialized domestic violence trainings for judges and lawyers and for those working in law enforcement and government agencies. Their American counterparts said that the trainings respond to periodic personnel changes within organizations, nurturing a deeper understanding of the law and the dynamics of abuse and improving implementation.

The visitors said that U.S. law and procedures in issuing court protection orders and mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect were of special interest. In 2008, China’s Supreme People’s Court initiated a pilot project, allowing nine courts to issue court protection orders in civil divorce cases that involve domestic violence. While 72 courts have joined the project, issuance of court protection orders remain low, in part, because judges remain somewhat hesitant to issue protection orders without a clearly defined legal framework and interpretive guidelines. The delegates discussed the procedures for issuing court protection orders and the requirements to report child abuse with American judges, lawyers and law enforcement personnel, and said that it was important to codify them in national legislation.

ABA ROLI has since 2006 worked closely with anti-domestic violence advocates in China to improve the protection of victims’ rights.

To learn more about our work in China, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.