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People planning to get married can check if their partner has a history of domestic violence on new Chinese database

Andrew Cuomo

A city in eastern China is launching a database for people considering marriage to check the domestic violence records of their partner.

The database will be launched on July 1 in the city of Yiwu, in Zhejiang province. It’s backed by the All China Women’s Foundation (ACWF), an influential, government-linked organization, which said in a statement this week the plan would “prevent and reduce the occurrence of domestic violence.”

The system allows people to retrieve information related to domestic violence and personal safety protection orders — akin to restraining orders — from their partner’s criminal records.

“In most cases, people don’t find out their partner is violent until after they’re married,” Zhou Danying, vice president of Yiwu’s chapter of the ACWF, told local media. “The inquiry system allows a partner to know whether the other party has a domestic violence record before getting married.”

Domestic violence is a major issue in China. Until 2001, abuse wasn’t considered grounds for divorce — and the country only passed a law criminalizing partner assault in 2015.

Enforcement of the law remains inconsistent, according to advocacy groups. In a 2018 report, Human Rights Watch said courts regularly gave abusers a pass, encouraging victims to “reconcile” with partners who assaulted them. A recent change to the civil law also introduced a 30-day “cooling off period” for couples seeking a divorce.

Some courts have made it a point of pride to avoid ending a marriage. A court in Guangxi province in 2017 claimed “we have saved a couple that could reconcile” after it refused to grant a divorce to a woman whose husband had “put a kitchen knife to (her) throat in front of their child.”

That lack of enforcement could lead to problems with the new database, as people with a history of violence may not have any mention of it on their criminal records.

“The current system only recognizes domestic violence records issued by the official channels,” Zheng Shiyin, a Chinese expert on gender issues, told Shanghai-based publication Sixth Tone. “However, in reality, such records are often hard to issue. For example, to apply for a personal safety protection order from the court, one needs to provide quite a lot of evidence, which is often hard for victims to collect.”

There are also privacy concerns about the new database. In its statement, the ACWF said applicants would have to provide ID, proof of marriage and agree to confidentiality requirements, and it would be illegal to “copy or disseminate the information in the register.”

The database comes amid an increase in domestic violence in China during the coronavirus lockdown. The United Nations has warned of a global increase in partner abuse due to the restrictions, which can trap victims at home and make it harder for them to seek help.

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