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Russia decriminalises some forms of domestic violence

The lower house of the Russian parliament has given final approval to a bill decriminalising some forms of domestic violence.

The State Duma voted 380-3 to eliminate criminal liability for battery on family members which does not cause bodily harm, making it punishable by a fine or a 15-day arrest.

The law needs to be approved by the upper chamber and signed by president Vladimir Putin, who has signalled his support.

The bill has raised fears that it could mean impunity for those who beat up their family members, but its supporters have argued that it retains criminal responsibility for repeat offenders.

The measure is a response to conservative activists' criticism of the current legislation, seen by some as a threat to parents who might spank their children.

The bill stems from last year's Russian supreme court ruling to decriminalise battery which does not inflict bodily harm, but to retain criminal charges for those accused of battery against family members.

The Duma then approved the corresponding legislation, only to change course now.

Andrei Isayev of the main Kremlin faction, the United Russia, said politicians are "heeding the public call" by correcting a mistake they made last year.

A survey this month showed that 19% of Russians said "it can be acceptable" to hit one's wife, husband or child "in certain circumstances".

The nationwide phone poll of 1,800 people was held over January 13-15. The survey had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

However, the bill has been widely criticised amid fears it will fuel domestic violence.

During the debate, Communist politician Yuri Sinelshchikov said: "This bill would establish violence as a norm of conduct."

Data on domestic violence in Russia is scarce, but interior ministry statistics show that 40% of all violent crimes in Russia are committed in family surroundings. In 2013, more than 9,000 women were reported to have been killed as a result of domestic violence.

Russian police are often reluctant to react to domestic violence calls, which many regard as meddling in family affairs.

Prosecutors in November began investigating a police officer who took a call from a woman complaining about her boyfriend's aggressive behaviour.

Instead of offering help, the officer reportedly told the woman that the police would only come if she got killed. Shortly afterwards, the man beat the woman to death.

AP

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