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Hungary: Domestic violence in the Roma community, including legislation, state protection, and services available to victims (2008-February 2012)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 29 February 2012
Citation / Document Symbol HUN103981.E
Related Document Hongrie : information sur la violence conjugale dans la communauté rom, y compris les lois, la protection de l'État et les services offerts aux victimes (2008-février 2012)
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Hungary: Domestic violence in the Roma community, including legislation, state protection, and services available to victims (2008-February 2012) , 29 February 2012, HUN103981.E, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

1. Overview

Sources indicate that Roma women in Hungary face discrimination based on both their gender and their ethnicity (CFCF et al. Nov. 2010, 5; Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights 13 Dec. 2010; European Commission 2008, 122). A study conducted by two London-based NGOs--the IMECE Turkish Speaking Women's Group and the London Training and Employment Network (LTEN)--as well as the Budapest-based Regional Social Welfare Resource Centre (BSZF), explains that the social exclusion of Roma women in Hungary

is generated through unemployment, poor education, long term poverty, poor health, poor housing, lack of social and economic empowerment, discrimination and stereotypes. These issues usually interact in a vicious circle, thus reinforcing their effects as multiple disadvantages. (IMECE, LTEN, and BSZF Nov. 2010, 62)

In terms of their treatment within the Roma community, a 2008 report prepared for the European Commission explains that Roma women have an "unequal" position within Roma families, which are described as "patriarchal," are subordinate to the male head of the household, and largely remain at home as caretakers (European Commission Nov. 2008, 123). The report further indicates that domestic violence is viewed as a "socially accepted practice" among many Roma communities (ibid., 124). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a project coordinator at the NANE Women's Rights Association, a Budapest-based NGO founded in 1994 that advocates against the threat of violence against women and provides support services to victims of domestic violence (NANE n.d.), indicated that a Roma woman who complains about domestic violence is likely to face "scorn and punishment from her own community" (7 Feb. 2012).

Sources report that domestic violence is viewed as a "social problem" in Hungarian society (CFCF et al. Nov. 2010, 5), and that it has historically been treated as a "taboo" topic (Fábián 2010, 223). A representative of the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), in a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, explained that, in Hungary, domestic violence is "not widely spoken about," is "considered shameful," and "is often kept hidden within families" (ERRC 31 Jan. 2012). This view was also expressed by the Roma participants of the 2010 study on domestic violence by the IMECE Turkish Speaking Women's Group, the LTEN, and the BSZF (Nov. 2010, 64). The participants "gave the indication that being abused was shameful, not to be revealed, something to be resolved within the family or to simply be endured" (IMECE, LTEN, and BSZF Nov. 2010, 64).

A program coordinator at the MONA Foundation for the Women of Hungary, a Budapest-based NGO that focuses on women's rights, indicated, in correspondence with the Research Directorate, that there is "a lot of anecdotal evidence" to show that "domestic violence against Roma women is quite widespread and quite serious" (10 Feb. 2012). However, she also explained that

a lot of cases of domestic violence against Roma women are unreported in our region due to a number of reasons: the embeddedness of this oppressive practice in the often more strongly patriarchal families of the community, the 'fear of further stigmatizing the group by exposing intra-group violence', the general lack of holding the perpetrator accountable for such violence, the mistrust against the police and a number of practical hindrances for women to leave such situations safely and start a new life. (MONA 10 Feb. 2012)

1.1 Statistics

The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010 indicates that, according to "expert research" in the field, approximately 20 percent of women in Hungary "have been physically assaulted or victimized by domestic violence" (US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6). Country Reports 2010, drawing on statistics from the National Police Headquarters, indicates that there were 8,514 women who reported incidents of domestic violence to the police, but that most cases are not reported (ibid.). The Xinhua News Agency reports that, according to statistics from the Hungarian police, 42 women died as a result of domestic violence in 2010 (28 Nov. 2010). NANE and a sister NGO in Hungary, People Against Patriarchy (Patent), also cite police statistics to indicate in a 2011 report that there are 200 homicides related to domestic violence annually (2011, 17).

Several sources indicate that there are no specific statistics about domestic violence among the Roma in Hungary, in part because Hungarian laws do not allow for data collection based on ethnicity (Hungary 13 Feb. 2012; NANE 7 Feb. 2012; MONA 10 Feb. 2012). However, the ERRC representative noted that, in a survey of 129 Roma women conducted by her organization in 2007, 42 percent indicated that they had been victims of domestic violence (ERRC 31 Jan. 2012).

2. Legislation

Sources indicate that domestic violence is not specifically addressed in legislation (Fábián 2010, 231; CFCF et al. Nov. 2010, 5; US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6). Instead, domestic violence is prosecuted under other laws, such as those prohibiting assault and battery (IMECE, LTEN and BSZF Nov. 2010, 27; US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6). According to the IMECE joint study, the Hungarian Criminal Code does not consider criminal acts against women in intimate relationships as either "aggravating" or "mitigating circumstances" when deciding on prosecuting and sentencing (IMECE, LTEN and BSZF Nov. 2010, 28). Country Reports 2010 notes that the maximum sentence for assault and battery is eight years imprisonment (US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6). However, the IMECE and its co-authors explain that most cases of domestic violence are treated as "'simple batterings'" (injuries that heal in eight days), which carry a maximum sentence of two-years imprisonment, but more commonly result in fines that are paid from the household budget (Nov. 2010, 28).

Hungary has enacted legislation that allows victims of domestic violence to obtain a temporary restraining order (US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6; Hungary 26 Nov. 2010; IMECE, LTEN and BSZF Nov. 2010, 6). For further information on this topic see Response to Information Request HUN103823.EF dated 12 October 2011.

The NANE and Patent report of 2011 indicates that most crimes related to domestic violence are pursued upon a "private motion" that is decided by the victim (2011, 16). In cases of light bodily injury (the injury heals within eight days), the crime must be prosecuted as a "private prosecution," in which the victim has the burden of proving the guilt of the accused (NANE and Patent 2011, 17). The report outlines several obstacles private prosecution poses to the victim, including the private prosecutor's inability to order an investigation or a "coercive measure" by the state and the difficulty the women's obligation to pay fees may pose to women without money (ibid., 17-19). In addition, the authors note that, at the start of the hearing, the court summons the victim and the abuser for a process of "conciliation," which may cause "psychological distress" and pose "physical danger" for the victim (ibid., 18). The authors further indicate that there is a "lack of victim protection," and note that there have been cases in which the perpetrator attacked the victim in the hallway or street before the hearing, or followed the woman from the court to her hiding spot (ibid.). Another obstacle, according to the authors, is the threat victims face of being charged with "false accusations" if their testimony is not believed (ibid., 19). Sources indicate that domestic violence victims who seek legal redress may be subject to "victim-blaming" by authorities (NANE 7 Feb. 2012; IMECE, LTEN and BSZF Nov. 2010, 66-67).

According to the IMECE joint study, "very few" Roma victims of domestic violence have initiated legal actions against their abusers (ibid., 66). The authors indicate that the few who did turn to the courts complained of "lengthy procedures, unnecessary pleading obligations, the ignoring of personal safety and negative mindsets of judges" (ibid.).

2.1 Family Law

The European Commission report notes that, in cases of divorce, it is the custom in many Roma communities for the father to decide on the custody of the children (Nov. 2008, 123). As a result, many Roma women choose to stay with their husbands, "even in very difficult marriages or in cases of domestic violence" (European Commission Nov. 2008, 123).

Within Hungary's family law system in general, the NANE representative explained that victims of domestic violence are likely to face

laws and practice creating obstacles to divorce, laws and practice that do not consider DV [domestic violence] while granting visitation rights or even custody to abusive fathers, a statute of limitations on requesting non-paid child allowance beyond 6 months . . . very high fines and/or potential imprisonment if they protect the child from the abuser by not allowing visitation granted by the court even if criminal procedures for child abuse and/or DV are pending or have never been investigated in spite of such request. (NANE 7 Feb. 2012)

NANE and Patent report that, in providing legal aid assistance to victims of domestic violence, they "have not seen a single case where the fact of abuse, even where it was proven beyond doubt, provided basis for abolishing the batterer's visitation rights over his children" (2011, 8). Their report highlights several examples of cases in which the court did not take into account the man's record of violence when deciding on visitation rights (ibid., 8-10). The two NGOs, which collaborated to produce a report on the rights of domestic abuse victims in 2010, also reference the case of a woman who was killed by her former husband when he accessed his right to visit their daughter (NANE and Patent 2010, 9).

3. State Protection

Several sources indicate that there are no government programs and services specifically designed for Roma victims of domestic violence (Hungary 13 Feb. 2012; NANE 7 Feb. 2012; MONA 10 Feb. 2012). The NANE representative indicated that a Roma woman who complains about domestic violence "is likely to face prejudice and discrimination, and is probably more likely to face dismissal by the authorities" (7 Feb. 2012). The ERRC representative similarly said that Roma women experience "more discrimination" when accessing state services (31 Jan. 2012).

3.1 Police

Sources indicate that the police and Roma women do not trust each other (ERRC 31 Jan. 2012; IMECE, LTEN and BSZF Nov. 2010, 64; CFCF et al. Nov. 2010, 5). The ERRC survey of Roma women conducted in 2007 indicated that 20 percent of Roma victims of domestic violence turned to the police for assistance, and that the police "responded effectively" in one of seven cases (ERRC 31 Jan. 2012). According to the ERRC representative, the police sometimes do not answer calls that come from Roma neighbourhoods or they take a long time to respond (ibid.). She also noted that the police are not doing anything to prevent domestic violence, and that they "react only when something major happens, such as when there are serious injuries" (ibid.). The representative further indicated that Roma women have "reported being the targets of police surveillance and harassment" (ibid.).

Sources indicate that the police often treat domestic violence cases among Roma as something that should be resolved within the family (ibid.; IMECE, LTEN and BSZF Nov. 2010, 64). Country Reports 2010 indicates that the police are reluctant to arrest the perpetrators of domestic violence (US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6). Sources also report that the police are not given regular training about domestic violence (ibid.; IMECE, LTEN and BSZF Nov. 2010, 67), although NANE has provided three-hour training workshops to dispatch officers (NANE and Patent 2010, 14).

Victims of domestic violence can report an incident to any police station (Hungary 23 Feb. 2012; ibid. 13 Feb. 2012; NANE 7 Feb. 2012). The case is then forwarded to the station with jurisdictional authority (ibid.; Hungary 13 Feb. 2012). An official at the Embassy of Hungary in Ottawa noted, in correspondence with the Research Directorate, that the victim can make a complaint if police decide not to investigate or can file a complaint if a police officer violates the victim's rights (Hungary 13 Feb. 2012).

The NANE representative maintains that complaints about domestic violence are often not taken "even by the police with jurisdiction" (NANE 7 Feb. 2012). She said that, when calling the police to their premises, women sometimes ask the police to start a case, but the police often "arbitrarily" choose not to make an official report (ibid.). This information could not be corroborated among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

3.2 Child Welfare Services

Sources indicate that Hungarian authorities sometimes threaten to take away the children of women who are victims of domestic violence (IMECE, LTEN and BSZF Nov. 2010, 64; NANE and Patent 2011, 21). The NANE and Patent report indicates that child protection authorities often "blame the mother" for the situation, even if the mother is one of the victims (ibid.). The NGOs provided an example in which a woman was charged as a "secondary perpetrator" for "endangering the children's mental and moral development" because she had verbal arguments with her husband prior to her abuse (ibid., 22). The woman suffered a head injury, broken arm, concussion, and other injuries as a result of the abuse (ibid., 24). It reportedly took over two years of litigation before she could move back home with her children (ibid.). The ERRC representative explained that Roma women are often reluctant to report domestic violence for fear that their children might be taken away from them (31 Jan. 2012). She noted that this is a "realistic concern" because Roma children are overrepresented in the child welfare system (ERRC 31 Jan. 2012).

4. Support Services
4.1 Telephone Hotlines

The Hungarian government reportedly operates a free, 24-hour national crisis telephone hotline [also known as OKIT] for victims of domestic violence (ERRC 31 Jan. 2012; NANE 7 Feb. 2012). NANE also operates a telephone hotline (ibid.).

4.2 Shelters

According to the Hungarian embassy official, there is one shelter in Budapest specifically for victims of domestic violence with or without children (Hungary 13 Feb. 2012). The shelter, which reportedly opened in 2006, has room for 24 people (ibid.).

In addition, the embassy official explained that the Ministry of National Resources coordinates and finances a "Regional Crisis Management Network" made up of 14 crisis centres nationwide (ibid.). These crisis centres provide a variety of services to victims of domestic violence, including information, employment, training, psychological assistance, legal consultation, mediation, and reintegration (ibid.). According to statistics provided by the official, the crisis centres provided services to the following people:

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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