The sentencing of a man in the northern Hebei province for raping his wife has raised discussions on marital rape in China — an underreported issue not defined in the country’s law.
The People’s Court of Ci County sentenced the man, surnamed Zhao, to eight months in prison after he was found guilty of having coercive sex with his spouse, according to the case details released last week. The man raped his wife in April 2020, the same month when she filed for a divorce, and the couple were living separately.
Zhang Pei’e, the judge who presided the case, said it was the first case involving marital rape in her career, according to the case details released by the court. In her verdict, she said that “Zhao’s behavior constitutes rape, as he violated the will of the woman.”
The rare case has made headlines on Chinese social media, with many supporting the court’s judgment. Marital rape is neither a criminal nor civil offense under current Chinese law.
Lü Xiaoquan, a women’s legal aid lawyer at Qianqian Law Firm in Beijing, told Sixth Tone that the definition of marital rape is absent in the country’s marriage law and criminal law, meaning the courts lack legal grounds while reviewing such cases.
“According to previous verdicts, courts would usually not recognize marital rape when the husband forces the wife to have sex, unless when the woman already sued for divorce or the couples are under separation,” he told Sixth Tone.
Lü added that the belief that rape doesn’t exist in married couples is based on an unjust idea that doesn’t recognize women’s rights in marriage.
“Recognizing the husband’s right to abuse while denying the wife’s right to reject is an extreme disregard to the equality of gender and a misinterpretation of the reciprocity of rights and obligations,” he added.
As of 2017, only 77 of the 185 countries had legislation criminalizing marital rape, according to U.N. Women. Of those countries, 34 still hadn’t criminalized marital rape or had provisions for women to file complaints against their spouses.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Moment/People Visual)