Hungary's about turn on domestic violence

23.09.2012 - 21:19

The Hungarian parliament has changed course on a bill that introduces domestic violence to the Hungarian penal code.

A citizen led proposal, that domestic violence be criminalised with specific legislation, found resistance from members of parliament who instead suggested that in light of the declining birth rate, women should bear children first and worry about freeing themselves later.

The Hungarian parliament deemed discussion about the new legislation so trivial that they held their talks in the middle of the night. However, controversial debates ensued in the lead up to the passing of the bill, leaving some commentators to believe that democracy in Hungary “may not be lost”, after all.

"It is a huge mistake to assume that declining birth rates are the result of egoism and careerism only,” Roland Lippai wrote in the publication Magyar Nemzet. His comments are in response to the remarks in Parliament of Fidesz MP, István Varga, who suggested that women should bear children first before seeking their place in the world BudaPost reported on 14 September. 

Lippai acknowledges that Hungary is facing a serious demographic problem due to an ageing population, but this, he suggests, has nothing to do with domestic violence. 

Families have few children because of the harsh economic realities: in order to earn a living, both parents have to work, a report in BudaPost outlines. 

Fidesz first distanced itself from Varga’s statement, then went further, and agreed to reversing the bill and to incorporate a special clause about domestic violence in the Penal Code.

Floor leader Antal Rogán said that both the prime minister and he himself had “heeded to the demand of the ladies,” referring  to female MPs of the Hungarian parliament.

"The government has yielded to public opinion, which cannot be considered a defeat in a democracy,” said Gáspár Miklós Tamás in Heti Világgazdaság newspaper. Tamas contends that for the first time in many years, the people have exerted their influence over the government.

Fidesz MP István Varga said that during the parliamentary debate on the proposal initiated by women’s rights NGOs to include sanctions against domestic violence in the penal code that “women should primarily focus on raising children, and we should discuss how families could have three, four or five kids rather than only one or two. This would help us to honour each other more, and domestic violence would not be an issue.... After helping the country by giving birth to two, three or four children, … women can find and emancipate themselves.” He also said that “beating the mother of one’s children is contemptible”.

The opposition parties criticised Varga for his remark, which they interpreted as a male chauvinist slur. The leadership of Fidesz also distanced itself from Varga’s words, but added that the governing party considers the explicit inclusion of domestic violence in the penal code unnecessary, since all kinds of physical violence associated with domestic violence are sanctioned by the current law.

The current law includes laws from the criminal code such as charges of assault and battery, which carry a maximum prison term of eight years, and 2006 legislation, on restraining orders, according to which stipulates that such orders can be imposed only in specific circumstances and only for a maximum of 30 days.

In fact, rape is "often unreported" and marital rape is "hardly ever prosecuted" according to a 2008 report by Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE).  The lack of specific legislation makes it difficult to support female victims of violence and prosecute crimes.

Further, legislation on rape requires that there be proof of a victim’s fight against her attacker, Amnesty International says in its 2007 report. 

In its 10 August 2007 concluding comments, the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) wrote that it was "concerned that the initiative to introduce restraining orders could not be used in terms of domestic violence." In May 2009, a law that had been passed in December 2008 allowing protection orders to be issued in cases of domestic violence, was ruled unconstitutional by Hungary's Constitutional Court.

In Népszava, János Dési finds it peculiar that in Hungary the desecration of national symbols is sanctioned by the law, while victims of domestic violence were not protected by a specific law. .

On xpatloop a site dedicated to the English speaking community an article commented that the U turn which took only a matter of four days, over the weekend of 15-16 September, was more than welcome.