On July 1, 2013, Hungary enacted legislation specifically criminalizing domestic violence for the first time in the country’s history. Prior to July, the official response to domestic violence was limited to charges of battery or assault for individual acts of physical abuse with no broader consideration of the abusive relationship; survivors did not have access to restraining orders until 2009. Criticism of Hungary’s response to domestic violence has centered on the absence of comprehensive laws, the limited available resources for survivors, and a culture of victim blaming within the country. This culture was exemplified during floor debate on the proposed legislation when József Balogh, a member of parliament for the governing party, unapologetically admitted to abusing his wife, and István Varga, also a member of parliament for the governing party, suggested women would not face abuse if they had more children. According to a November 2013 Human Rights Watch (HRW) Report, however, the new Law contains significant gaps, and Hungary may still be failing to fulfill its obligations to appropriately respond to domestic violence under CEDAW.
This Report is the most recent in a series of criticisms of Hungary from human rights groups and international treaty bodies alleging the country has failed to meet its obligations. In the 2005 case A.T. v. Hungary, the Committee for the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Committee) found that Hungary violated several of its obligations under CEDAW. The Committee also found that Hungary failed to promote gender equality through appropriate legislation under article 2, to eliminate prejudices and customs grounded in female inferiority by lacking legislation against domestic violence under article 5, and to end discrimination against women in marriage and family life under article 16. Accordingly, the Committee recommended that Hungary enact legislation criminalizing domestic violence and allowing victims to receive protection orders.
Hungary has been slow to adopt laws that comply with the Committee’s recommendations. In 2009, Hungary enacted a law to provide temporary restraining order access to domestic violence victims, but critics of the law argue it is insufficient. The restraining order law provides that police can issue a seventy-two-hour restraining order against the aggressor in domestic disputes, giving individuals thirty days to apply for restraining orders against violent family members. However, these restraining orders are not renewable, and a victim may only file for a new restraining order after another, separate, violent incident. Additionally, former common law spouses and couples who do not cohabitate and have no children together cannot petition for a restraining order. A 2010 report by NANE Women’s Rights Organization found that a lack of training for law enforcement resulted in gaps in the enforcement of the legislation, “frustrate[ing] the act in fulfilling its already limited goals.” Further, the law did not alter the criminal code to recognize domestic violence as a specific criminal offense.
The November HRW Report alleges that Hungary’s response to domestic violence is lacking even after the introduction of the provision criminalizing domestic violence into the criminal code. The new law requires prosecutors to initiate criminal actions against abusers and provides stiffer penalties for domestic assaults. However, HRW feels that the law falls short by requiring at least two separate instances of domestic violence to trigger prosecution and by requiring that the victim cohabitate or have children with the abusive partner. Additionally, HRW is critical of the government’s decision not to include sexual violence as an offense under this law because rape is already criminalized. These requirements significantly narrow the range of victims eligible for protection and neglect varying degrees of potential violence, according to activists. Critics further allege that the new law does not amend the gaps in the 2009 protection order statute, nor has law enforcement received adequate training.
Activists and survivors of domestic violence allege that survivors frequently encounter hostility or indifference from police, social workers, doctors, and the courts. The HRW Report found widespread police inaction, with police routinely refusing to use their authority to issue restraining orders. Courts are similarly hesitant to issue protection orders, often imposing high evidence standards and issuing orders for only short periods of time. Outside the legal system, survivors receive insufficient support from doctors and social workers that provide little advice and information. Although the government established a 24/7 hotline for victims, the few shelters operating in Hungary receive no government funding, a situation that the Hungarian Association of Women Judges finds does not meet the existing need. While the new law criminalizing domestic violence is an important step, without broadening its scope, effecting a more concerted effort to effectively respond to survivors’ needs, and changing the victim blaming pervading Hungarian society, the government may continue to fall short of its obligations.