Domestic Violence China
File photo of people walking past a billboard advocating a stop to domestic violence.FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

China has finally created a law to specifically address the issue of domestic violence in the country. The Anti-Domestic Violence Law by the China's National People's Congress (NPC) was adopted on 27 December and will officially come into effect in March 2016.

It offers victims of physical and psychological abuse the chance to apply for restraining orders. Police are required to respond to domestic violence calls and courts will need to rule within 72 hours of a complaint being filed.

"The country prohibits any form of domestic violence," reads the new law. It formally defines domestic violence as physical, psychological and other harm inflicted by family members. Beatings, restraint or forcible limits on physical liberty, recurring invectives and verbal threats are listed as examples.

Su Zelin, deputy director with the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee said a draft of the law, made in August, took only physical abuse into consideration. It was later changed to include psychological trauma.

China never had a specific law that provided for action against people who caused domestic violence. There were various fragmented references to the issue in the laws on marriage, protection of minors and protection of the rights and interests of women.

While the new law will tackle issues faced by a large number people in marriages or cohabitation relationships, it leaves no room for homesexual couples. At a news conference, Guo Linmao, a member of the Legislative Affairs Commission of parliament's Standing Committee, explained: "There are a lot of examples of domestic violence between family members, and also between people who cohabit. As for homosexuals in our country, we have not yet discovered this form of violence, so to give you a certain answer, it can be said that people who cohabit does not include homosexuals."

Domestic violence has always been a behind-the-curtains crime in China with very few victims actually filing complaints for fear of social embarrassment. According to the All-China Women's Federation, about a quarter of all women have suffered violence in their marriage, though only 40,000 to 50,000 complaints are registered each year. Of the cases reported last year, almost 90% involved abuse of wives by their husbands.

In a study by Maple Women's Psychological Counselling Center, the first Chinese women's rights NGO in 2012 showed that more than 50% of its 1,858 online respondents suffered from some sort of domestic violence or the other; 23.3% of the victims happened to be male.

Deng Xiuxin, a member of the NPC Standing Committee, commended the creation of the new law but said it might be difficult to put it into practice. "We need to clarify the responsibilities of different departments and invest money and human resources, such as social workers," she told the China Daily.