Domestic Violence Around the World
Both California and U.S. laws offer victims of domestic violence some basic legal protections, including the ability to obtain restraining orders. These laws are not perfect, nor are they always effective, but in general they work and they have the approval of society behind them. Police will arrest domestic violence offenders and the state will prosecute them under criminal statutes. If convicted, the abusers face imprisonment and/or fines.
According to the World Bank, three-quarters of the world’s countries have laws against domestic violence, but enforcement of them can be spotty since abuse is at often culturally (if not legally) sanctioned. At least 45 countries, most in the Middle East and sub-Sahara Africa, have no laws forbidding domestic violence, according to the World Atlas. The countries include Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, the Ivory Coast, Haiti, Latvia, Kenya, Pakistan and Yemen.
• In Kuwait, 35 percent of women have reported spousal abuse. In a Kuwait Times online article, an attorney from that country says that when it comes to domestic violence, the criminal intent is what matters in the eyes of the law. “If the violator (father, husband or other) hits his wife or child by hand lightly, this is not considered a crime as it’s his right do to so according to Islamic sharia. But if he burns the child or attacks his wife with a knife, it would be clear that the criminal intent was to cause harm. But if he hits his wife while they are fighting, he may claim that he only tried to threaten her and didn’t intend to cause serious harm. The verdict in these cases usually is ‘exchanging blows’ and each of the parties pays a KD 50 fine, as each of them claims self-defense,” the lawyer said.
• In 2014, a Delhi court upheld a section of the Indian Penal Code, which says that forced sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife isn’t rape unless his wife is under 15 years old.
Aljazeera reports that 37.2 percent of all Indian women who have been married have suffered some type of spousal abuse, and about half of these women end up in hospitals as a result. In 2005, India passed the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act; it included physical, sexual, verbal, economic and emotional abuse in its definition of domestic violence. The law covered both married women and also those in a marriage-like relationship (i.e. living together).
But only two percent of women seek help or report incidents of domestic abuse. India’s culture is very male-dominated, and many (both men and women) believe that a man has a right to punish his wife. A survey by India’s national health service found that more than half of both men and women believe that wife-beating can be justified. Those surveyed said that not cooking food properly, neglecting the household and children and disrespecting in-laws could all be considered acceptable grounds for a beating.
• According to an article in on The Guardian’s website, a law passed by Afghanistan in 2014 bars relatives of a person accused of domestic violence from testifying against the accused. That means a woman or a child abused by a husband or father can no longer testify against him. The law extends that protection to in-laws as well. The Guardian points out that most Afghans live in walled compounds shared with extended families, so this law, in effect, would shield most abusers from prosecution.
• Just this year, Russia passed a law that decriminalized some forms of domestic violence, making it a civil offense. According to CNN, the so-called “slapping law” decriminalizes a first offense of domestic violence, as long as the person who has been hit has not been seriously injured. The offender will face punishment that can include fines of approximately $500, up to 15 days in jail and/or up to 120 hours of community service. A second offense could mean fines of about $675, jail for up to three months and six months of community service.
• China did not pass its first domestic violence law until 2015; for the most part, abuse was considered a private issue, and reporting it would be shaming the family. The new law is fairly far-reaching, legally defining domestic violence as physical and psychological abuse of family members and cohabitating non-family members. According to the Asia foundation, a spouse could not even use physical abuse as grounds for divorce until 2001.
• After the unfavorable outcome of several court cases against perpetrators of domestic violence, activists in Armenia are campaigning for stronger laws to protect domestic violence victims. A story on the Institute for War & Peace discussed the conviction of a 48-year old man who was found guilty of domestic abuse after his wife testified that he had abused and beaten her for more than 17 years. She ended up in the hospital after the last beating. But the court’s punishment was minimal; he was fined only the equivalent of $300 for inflicting intentional body harm to his wife’s health and beating a minor daughter.
The Armenian government rejected a 2013 attempt to put a stronger law into place; officials said it would be unenforceable.
• In the Federated States of Micronesia, composed of Chuuk, Kosrae, Pophnpei and Yap, “discrimination and violence against women and widespread corruption continued to be the most prevalent human rights problems,” according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2015 Human Rights report on the country. The State Department noted that “Reports of domestic violence, often severe, continued during the year. Although assault is a crime, effective prosecution of offenses was rare. In many cases victims decided not to initiate legal charges against a family member because of family pressure, fear of further assault, or the belief that police would not involve themselves actively in what is seen as a private family problem.”
The report noted that the traditional extended family unit considered violence, abuse, and neglect directed against spouses or children as offenses against the entire family, not just the individual victims. So, it was the family that dealt with abusers through various sanctions against the offender.
A World Bank blog cites an example of how this system works. “It is customary for perpetrators to seek forgiveness from the victim’s family by apologizing and offering gifts of fish and rice. Because incarceration of an abusive husband could result in financial hardship for the family, many consider the practice not only customary but also a wise economic choice.”
But the State Department said that increasing urbanization and the breakdown of the extended family have made those traditional methods of dealing with domestic outdated. “No institution, including the police, has succeeded in replacing the extended family system or in addressing directly the problem of family violence,” according to the report.
• The United Kingdom is on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to domestic violence laws. In 2014 it passed a law that targeted patterns of coercive and controlling behavior as types of domestic violence. According to the website Global Rights for Women, the country’s new law defines coercive control as “an act or pattern of acts of assault, sexual coercion, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten a victim.” Acts of coercive control would include limiting someone’s contact with family and friends, controlling a person’s access to money and dictating what the person would eat or where.