On Monday, Mao Yu'e, a delegate from the southern province of Guangdong, said China's legal system had no clear definition of what constitutes domestic violence, nor specific penalties.

 

He said the government should amend the marriage law to include articles on domestic violence, or draft specific regulations, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

 

The agency also reported that Cao Suying, from northern Hebei province, said that women who killed abusive husbands should have their abuse taken into account when being sentenced.

 

Cao said: "The traditional concept that 'a murderer should pay with life' should not be employed without a second thought when meting out punishment on abused women who take revenge."

 

Domestic violence occurs in three out of 10 families in China, with women as the victims in nearly all the cases, Xinhua news agency said earlier this month, citing research by a think-tank.

 

People used to take domestic violence for granted in China, but it has now become a social issue to which the public pays close attention, Xinhua said.

 

The Communist Party has enshrined in its ideology a rigid equality between men and women since sweeping to power in 1949, with Chairman Mao famously declaring that "women hold up half the sky".

 

But entrenched discrimination has persisted and the government admits that women, especially those in China's vast rural areas, are disadvantaged in education, jobs and politics.