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Earlier this year, a bill for the decriminalization of the use of some form of domestic force passed through the Russian lower house of Parliament. The amazing thing isn’t that such a bill was sponsored –rather, the fact that an overwhelming majority of the House voted 385-2 in favor of what has been dubbed the ‘slapping law’ is more intriguing. The law was instigated by a female ultra-conservative MP Yelena Mizulina, argued it made no sense to break up families for the sake of “a slap”. The law has since been signed into effect by President Vladir Putin with support from staunch traditionalists and the Russian Orthodox Church, who believe that the move will enforce traditional values and reduce state interference with family relationships –values which only favor the man’s right to discipline his wife, and not vice-versa.

The law decriminalizes a first offense of domestic violence that does not seriously injure the person, making it a less serious administrative offense. The punishment carries a fine of up to 30,000 rubles ($507), an arrest up to 15 days, or compulsory community service up to 120 hours. In cases of repeated assaults, a defendant faces a fine of up to 40,000 rubles ($676), compulsory community service for up to six months, or being held under arrest for up to three months. “Significant” injuries, such as broken bones or concussion, or repeated offences, would have to result before any criminal charges can be brought. Basically, a man could slap and knock about his wife once in a year, without ‘seriously injuring’ her, or he could do it as many times as he wants, if he has the money to pay the fine.

It is baffling that such a law could survive these modern times, until we take into account the age-old Russian proverb, “If he beats you, it means he loves you”. A popular Russian tabloid, Komsomolskaya Pravda, even went as far as encouraging women to wear their bruises proudly, because evolutionary psychologists claim physically abused women are more likely to birth sons. A survey carried out by Russia’s state-sponsored poll found 50{54d2fcdcd494adb6982253be6fe8d5492e5f586157f419110131714f9092ec60} of Russians were in favour while just 17{54d2fcdcd494adb6982253be6fe8d5492e5f586157f419110131714f9092ec60} said they were opposed to it.

This development has been denounced worldwide by activists and human rights organizations as retrogression to incivility and a further attempt to trivialize the issue of domestic violence. Up to one in three Russian women is believed to suffer some form of physical abuse at the hands of a partner, while 40 per cent of all violent crimes and murders take place within the home, according to the Anna Centre, which runs Russia’s only domestic violence hotline. Reports of domestic violence have more than doubled in Russia’s fourth largest city, Yekaterinburg, since the Government reduced the punishment for for spousal or child abuse from a criminal to a civil one. People were afraid of criminal charges, but now it seems the state has made it permissible. Police in Yekaterinburg responded to 350 incidents of domestic violence daily since the law was relaxed compared to 150 such incidents previously, according to the city’s mayor.

It remains to be seen what Russia aims to achieve with this controversial piece of legislation. Although its intent is to protect the valued norms of the people it is created to govern, antecedents show that this may serve more harm than good in the long run. In 2015, a 51-year old man named Oleg Belov woke up one morning and slaughtered his entire family –one pregnant wife, six kids and an elderly mother- with an axe, in their apartment in Niznhy Novgorod. Reports later showed that Oleg’s wife had filed six complaints with the police about her husband’s increasing violence against her and her children, to no avail. Such a bloodbath could not have been executed without screams of terror from his family; but the neighbors and passers-by never raise an alarm because it is Russia and what a man does behind closed doors stays there. Most times, no help comes until it is too late for the victims.

This is the same story in every part of the world where the society is largely patriarchal in nature; or there is a flagrant disregard for law and order. In our very own neighborhoods here in Nigeria, you find the drunken abusive husband who fights his wife publicly in the slums of Ajegunle; and the hot-shot executive who beats his wife to stupor behind the walls of their Banana Island mansion. Unfortunately, the blows aren’t softened by the riches of the hands which dealt them; the bruises remain the same, albeit with some saving grace from expensive concealers and Ray Bans.

We need to wake up as a nation and realize that there is no pride in beating up a person, whether man, woman, child or foe. It is even inhumane to be cruel to animals! How much more a person? It strips oneself of dignity especially in an institution such as marriage which thrives on mutual respect and the equality of both parties. This is a call to every woman out there: it is not okay to be black-eyed every other day at the hands of the one who is supposed to protect and cherish you. Seek help while you still can. Teach your little girls that it is not cool to fight other kids on the playground and please instill in your boys gentility and an aversion to bullying. Sometimes weigh the option of correcting erring children with words before resorting to the rod. We have a large role to play in character and nation building, or we risk beating up our futures from a misplaced point of love.

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