Building peace in the minds of men and women

China moves to legislate an end to violence against persons with disabilities in the family

Focused on violence against persons with disabilities, this article is an Op Ed to be published in Chinese Newspapers at the occasion of the International Day for People Living with Disabilities, on 3 December 2013. It is the final tome in a series of four Op Eds addressing each of the four types of violence which have been produced in the framework of a joint initiative of the United Nations Resident Coordinator and the UN Theme Group on Gender (UNTGG) in China. The purpose of the United Nations system in writing these Op Eds is to help illustrate the nature of each type of family violence and the importance of addressing it through national legislation.

China’s decision to include provisions for the protection of persons with disabilities against family violence within the newly proposed Family Law legislation is a laudable initiative and offers the opportunity for the world’s second largest economy to set the world standard in legislating this important aspect of social policy.  Our investigations have not identified any country in the world which has adopted laws targeting violence against the disabled within the family setting, which would make China, once this law is adopted, the world leader in establishing a legal framework to protect the rights of some of its most vulnerable citizens.

China is party to two international frameworks - the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD, 2007) which offer protection against violence.  The 1948 Universal Declaration established a “common standard for all peoples and all nations”.  It provided that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and guaranteed freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  Violence against the disabled also runs counter to Article 16 of the 2007 International Convention which provides for freedom from exploitation, violence, and abuse.  This very Article also imposes on states an obligation to promote the recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration of the victim and to investigate the abuse.  Hence China’s decision to integrate these rights and protections provided to persons with disabilities into its national legislation is a bold and welcome move.

China’s 1991 Law on the Protection of Disabled Persons (amended in 2008) already provides for some protection against discrimination.  Article 3 states that “disabled persons are entitled to enjoyment of equal rights as other citizens in political, economic, cultural and social fields, in family life and other aspects. The rights of disabled persons as citizens and their personal dignity are protected by law. Discrimination against, insult of and infringement upon disabled persons is prohibited."  However it does not specifically address the challenges of violence within the family and household.

According to the second national survey which sampled the disabled population in China in 2006, there were 83 million disabled people, 52% of whom were men, and 48% women.  The survey also revealed that the vast majority of China’s disabled population (75%) lived in rural areas, where, as in most developing countries, there are less services available and per capita household income levels are generally lower than in urban settings. The social inclusion of persons with disabilities in China remains challenging as their access to social services including education and training remains low as compared with the general Chinese population.  According to the China Ten-Year EFA Report 63% (2007) and 72% (2011) of disabled school-aged children were participating in compulsory education; 43% (1) of disabled persons were illiterate at the age of 15; and only 940,000 disabled persons held university or higher level qualifications.  According to the Global Monitoring Report 2012, among the general population, illiteracy in China was 6%; gross enrollment in primary school 111%; and according to the Ministry of Education over 6 million university graduates in 2012.

Levels of poverty among the disabled remain high, and the gap in standards of living between the disabled and general population is widening.  According to the China Disabilities People’s Federation (CDPF) Facts and Progress on Disability in China 2008, among the 30 million people living in poverty in China, 80% of them are disabled persons.  In 2007, 21 million disabled persons were employed, i.e. 26% of disabled persons aged 15 and above.  Comparatively, the national unemployment rate was 4.2 % in 2008 (2). Per capita household income (with disabled persons) in 2005 was 4,864 RMB and 2,260 RMB in urban and rural areas respectively as compared to the general population averages (3) of 10,493 RMB and 3255 RMB in urban and rural areas respectively.  And whereas none of the above conditions can excuse acts of violence, there is some evidence to support claims that undue economic hardship can be one of the triggers for inciting violence within the household.

Although specific numbers are not available for China, global reviews published in The Lancet scientific journal note that persons with disabilities are at much higher risk of violence than their non-disabled peers (4).  According to the World Health Organization, the July 2012 review on the prevalence and risk of violence against children with disabilities, found that overall children with disabilities are almost four times more likely to experience violence than non-disabled children. The review indicated that children with disabilities are 3.7 times more likely than non-disabled children to be victims of any sort of violence, 3.6 times more likely to be victims of physical violence, and 2.9 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence.

Inferences may be drawn from the concluding observations of the initial report of China (including Hong Kong and Macau), adopted by the International Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at its eighth session (17–28 September 2012).  The Committee expressed its deep concern about the repeated occurrence of domestic violence against women and girls with disabilities (Article 6, CRPD); incidents of women and girls with intellectual disabilities being subjected to sexual violence, as well as the heightened risk of violence against women and girls with disabilities becoming victims of domestic violence and abuse (Article 16);  and the practice of forced sterilization and forced abortion on women with disabilities without free and informed consent.  Violence against persons with disabilities has a detrimental impact on the health and well-being of the victim and family members, is a risk to social and economic advancement, and comes with a high price tag to society.   It should not be tolerated in any circumstance.

The United Nations System in China is privileged to support the ongoing process of drafting national level legislation on family violence which will address violence against women, children, the elderly and the disabled.  We are also committed to working with national and provincial governments, civil society, and other partners in China to implement the legislation when completed and will spare no efforts to end all forms of violence against women, children, elderly and disabled persons.

by Mr Abihmanyu Singh
Director of the UNESCO Office in Beijing


1. International Labor Organization (ILO); Facts on People with Disabilities in China
3. National Bureau of Statistics of China; Statistical Communiqué, February 28, 2006