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Last Updated: Monday, 15 September, 2003, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
China brides bear brunt of violence

By Tim Luard
BBC News Online

Hong Kong's economic ills and a recent fashion for brides from mainland China is fuelling a dramatic rise in domestic violence, say social workers.

The territory's police said on Monday that reported acts of violence between couples had risen 40% in a year.

The trend also appears to reflect a fundamental clash between traditional Chinese attitudes - where the husband was undisputed master of his household - and younger women's growing awareness of their rights to seek outside help.

Hong Kong women
Women's attitudes to marriage - and much else - are changing

"Chinese men think their wives are part of their possessions. They don't respect them and there is still a basic inequality between the sexes," says Kitty Lai, a coordinator at Harmony House, which provides counselling and shelter for battered spouses.

"But the younger generation is changing and more women these days are prepared to do something about their mistreatment rather than suffering in silence", she told BBC News Online.

She said more than 70% of women who came to her organisation seeking shelter were immigrants - mostly from mainland China.

Lack of support

Many middle-aged Hong Kong men find younger women on business trips to the mainland and either keep them there as mistresses or bring them back as wives.

These "China brides" often have no friends or relatives in Hong Kong and do not know where to look for support, so they are very vulnerable, said Rose Wu, Director of the Hong Kong Christian Institute.

There is a serious imbalance of power in such relationships, she said.

More women know about their rights and about the possibility of getting help from the government's social services department or from various women's welfare groups
Irene Ng, Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women
"In the traditional Chinese patriarchal family, the man thinks he can treat his wife however he likes", she said.

"He also expects to be the breadwinner. But ever since the economy began to worsen... many men have lost their jobs and directed their anger and frustration at their wives. This can easily end in violence."

The proportion of people out of work in Hong Kong has been running at record levels of more than 8% this year.

Battered husbands

It is easier for women than men to find part-time work these days and this role-reversal can make domestic violence more likely than ever, said Ms Wu.

There has even been a worsening problem involving wives physically assaulting husbands. A four-fold rise in domestic violence against men over a period of four years has mirrored the rise in unemployment.

But women are victims in the vast majority of attacks, insists Irene Ng, of the Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women.

In addition to the effect of the economic downturn on many middle-aged, low-skilled men, she believes the greater willingness of today's young women to report such incidents goes a long way towards explaining the recent increase in reported attacks.

"There has been more publicity, with a number of campaigns on the issue in the media, so more women know about their rights and about the possibility of getting help from the government's social services department or from various women's welfare groups," she said.

Many women, however, are still reluctant to come forward and admit their mistreatment, and marital violence sometimes leads them to suicide.

The situation is particularly bad across the border in China, where the female suicide rate is 25% higher than the male rate. This is in contrast to the west, where men are much more likely to kill themselves.

According to Veronica Pearson, a professor at the University of Hong Kong, family conflict and a lack of avenues to express emotions are the main reasons why so many young rural Chinese women choose to take their lives.

Domestic violence on rise in HK
15 Sep 03  |  Asia-Pacific
HK jobless rate soars
17 Jul 03  |  Business
Hong Kong's abused husbands
13 Dec 02  |  Asia-Pacific

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