A new bill decriminalising some forms of domestic violence in Russia has sparked anger among advocates of women's rights. The bill has passed its first reading in the country's Duma, leaving critics disheartened.

On Wednesday (11 January), some 368 lawmakers in Duma – the lower house of parliament – voted in favour of the bill, which was introduced by MP Yelena Mizulina, who has argued that people should not be jailed and labeled a criminal "for a slap."

Mizulina, a conservative MP who had also promoted a law that made "propaganda of homosexuality among minors" an offence, said: "Battery carried out toward family members should be an administrative offence. You don't want people to be imprisoned for two years and labeled a criminal for the rest of their lives for a slap."

"In Russian traditional family culture parent-child relationships are built on the authority of the parents' power... The laws should support that family tradition," she said, adding if parents were not allowed to discipline their children by beating them it would weaken "traditional family culture".

But critics condemned the move and said it would set back efforts to tackle a prevalent issue, citing the draft that mentioned criminal charges will only be brought if a relative is beaten more than once a year.

The draft concerns both parents' conduct of their children, and husbands and wives' behavior of each other.

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Posted by Alena Popova on Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Olga Bobrova, a journalist at Novaya Gazeta and a critic of the bill, said that in many cases violence that does not leave marks on the victim's body still "transforms her life into a living hell", mentioning a phrase from the draft which says violent action causing injuries cannot be considered criminal if the victim does not require hospital treatment.

"A huge number of women tolerate domestic violence but do not bring it out to the public. The decriminalisation will worsen the situation," she added.

In November, Bobrova wrote that "domestic violence is a normal way of life" in Russia, justifying a well-know aphorism in Russia that says "If he beats you, it means he loves you".

Another critic, Alena Popova, a social and political activist, said that MPs who voted for it would "be personally responsible for the injuries, the scratches, the bruises, the tears, for the lives and deaths of all victims of domestic abuse".

She also posted statistics on her Facebook page describing the number of violent crimes. She wrote 36,493 Russian women and 11,756 children had suffered from domestic violence in the country in 2015.

Women violence march UN
Gender studies students wearing masks pose with the word "Enough" written on their hands during a performance to commemorate victims of gender violence, during the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women REUTERS/Eloy Alonso