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Hungary: Domestic violence, including in the Romani community; legislation and availability of state protection and support services

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 18 September 2009
Citation / Document Symbol HUN103233.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Hungary: Domestic violence, including in the Romani community; legislation and availability of state protection and support services, 18 September 2009, HUN103233.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b20f03ec.html [accessed 24 July 2014]
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.

General situation

Sources estimate that between a fifth and a third of Hungarian women have faced physical violence at least once in their lifetime (WAVE Dec. 2008, 80; UN 1 Aug. 2007; AI May 2007, Intr.; US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5). According to national police data, 2,137 women reported incidents of domestic violence in the first 10 months of 2008 (ibid.). In a statement made in January 2009, legislators from Hungary's Free Democrat party claimed that, on average, Hungarian women sought assistance only after 40 acts of violence (MTI 6 Jan. 2009) and that 95 percent of domestic violence victims were women (ibid. 28 Aug. 2008). Police statistics showed that in 2006, men committed 75 homicides and 1,879 physical assaults against women in Hungary (WAVE Dec. 2008, 80). At the same time, police reported that the number of acts of domestic violence had halved between 2007 and 2008 (MTI 20 Apr. 2009). However, Amnesty International (AI) notes that while law enforcement authorities collect statistics on the domestic violence cases investigated by the police, there are no figures on the number of complaints received by the police, making it difficult to ascertain the proportion of complaints that lead to an investigation (AI May 2007, Sec. 4).

According to human rights reports, societal attitudes on domestic or sexual violence continue to place disproportionate blame on the victim (ibid., Sec. 1; US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5). AI reports that "[g]irls and women who have been raped can expect to be disbelieved and stigmatized" (AI May 2007, Intr.).

Legislation and judiciary

Several sources report that Hungary lacks a specific law criminalizing domestic violence (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5; UN 10 Aug. 2007, Para. 18; OSI 2007, 16; WAVE Dec. 2008, 82). Instead, various provisions of the criminal code are used in cases of domestic violence (ibid.), such as charges of assault and battery, which carry a maximum prison term of eight years (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5). However, Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE), a network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) assisting females victims of violence (WAVE n.d.), says that "[t]he lack of a specific paragraph is a huge obstacle in supporting survivors of domestic violence and combating it" (Dec. 2008, 82). According to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008, "prosecution for domestic violence [is] rare" (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5). While marital rape is a criminal offence (ibid.; OSI 2007, 17; Hungary 1997), sources note that rape is "often unreported" (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5) and marital rape is "hardly ever prosecuted" (WAVE Dec. 2008, 82). AI describes the courts' interpretation of rape as "restrictive" because in practice it requires proof that the victim fought back (May 2007, Sec. 2).

Several NGOs dealing with violence against women have criticized 2006 legislation on restraining orders (WAVE Dec. 2008, 82; US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5; OSI 2007, 16), which stipulates that such orders can be imposed only in specific circumstances and only for a maximum of 30 days (ibid.; WAVE Dec. 2008, 82; Hungary 2006). According to the Open Society Institute (OSI), "the restraining order in its present form does not provide effective protection for victims; in fact, it adds virtually nothing to previous legal possibilities" (OSI 2007, 16). In its 10 August 2007 concluding comments, the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) wrote that it was "concerned that the initiative to introduce restraining orders has not been effective in providing protection to women victims of domestic violence" (UN 10 Aug. 2007, Para. 18). In May 2009, a law that had been passed in December 2008 allowing protection orders to be issued in cases of domestic violence, was ruled unconstitutional by Hungary's Constitutional Court (MTI 5 May 2009). Further or corroborating information on the implementation of legislation on restraining or protection orders other than that passed in 2006 could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Sources list a number of factors that inhibit reporting of domestic violence (OSI 2007, 18; AI May 2007, Intr.). For example, AI attributes low reporting of rape and domestic violence to "the legal requirement that physical resistance by the victim must be proved, the dilatory police responses, and the lack of specialist services in the justice and health services" (ibid.), while the OSI indicates that domestic violence victims are often inhibited by judicial procedures, which take the form of personal hearings during which the accuser and the accused appear in court together (OSI 2007, 18). However, in some cases victims may provide testimony via video-link (Hungary 2006).

According to the OSI, the lack of courts that specialize in domestic violence gives rise to a number of challenges for female victims of violence, for example, sentencing of perpetrators may be "inconsistent" or "mitigated" due to cases appearing before different courts (2007, 30). Also, Hungarian courts are overburdened, resulting in delays of several years in some cases, and judges do not receive specific training on domestic violence (OSI 2007, 30), although they may elect to sign up for three-day training sessions on violence against women (Hungary 2000c).

For information on specific sentences handed out in criminal cases involving violence against women, including domestic violence, please consult the Hungarian government's Responses to the List of Issues and Questions with Regard to the Consideration of the Sixth Periodic Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Hungary 30 Apr. 2007).

State protection

There are reportedly no special law enforcement units that specialize in violence against women, although there are specialized violent crime units and human trafficking units, who deal with mostly female victims (OSI 2007, 29). Country Reports 2008 cites NGOs as describing police as "reluctant" to arrest alleged perpetrators of domestic violence, possibly because of a perception that cases would not be resolved by the justice system (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5).

OSI suggests that lack of protection may inhibit some victims from pursuing justice (OSI 2007, 21-22). While Hungarian legislation provides for witness protection in certain circumstances (Hungary 30 Apr. 2007, 18-19), according to the OSI, legislation governing the protection of victims during criminal procedures is often applied only in cases of high importance, since these measures are expensive to implement (OSI 2007, 21).

Article 63 of the Act No. LXIII of 1992 on the Protection of Personal Data and the Publicity of Public Data stipulates that personal data may be shared only with the consent of the concerned party (ibid., 22). However, according to the OSI,

[f]rom a practical point of view, two problems occur in connection with data protection. On one hand, different authorities refuse multi-agency cooperation by referring to the law on the protection of data and personal secrets, thus constraining effective action against crimes against women. On the other hand, authorities (for example, court), often announce the personal data of the victims to the perpetrator during the procedure, not taking security aspects into consideration. In the course of a criminal procedure, the law provides for the possibility of handling data (for example, address) security. However, there is no possibility provided for that in the civil procedure. (ibid.)

The OSI further states that "[i]n criminal procedure, the personal data of a witness can be handled in private, but, apart from extraordinary cases, his/her name is a matter of public record" (ibid., 21). OSI's statements, however, could not be corroborated among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Information on whether domestic violence training is mandatory for practising professionals, such as police, judges and prosecutors could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. However, the OSI mentions several specific training sessions conducted by NGOs for police and legal professionals (2007, 37-38). Hungarian police reportedly receive mandatory training on handling domestic violence at vocational schools for five hours per year; in addition, roughly 100 police officers per year choose to take a 3-day training course on domestic violence (Hungary 2000d).

The OSI reports that there is no national coordinating body to address violence against women (OSI 2007, 12). However, according to the Hungarian government, the Working Group on Violence Against Women established in 2007 coordinates joint efforts by various government ministries and law enforcement bodies to prevent domestic violence, in addition to developing a national plan of action (Hungary 2007). In 2008, the Hungarian government budgeted 688,000 US dollars to address violence against women, as mandated by Act CLXIX of 2007 (ibid. 2008). The government assists NGOs working with victims of domestic violence either directly through a permanent fund available to all NGOs, or else through the budgets of individual ministries (ibid. 2000a).

Support services

Under Act No. LXXX of 2003 on Legal Aid, free legal aid is available under certain conditions for both civil and criminal proceedings (EU 19 Apr. 2007, Sec. 3-4). However, the OSI criticizes this law for being inadequate for many women who are victims of domestic violence, since many applicants have an income higher than the minimum threshold, "which is extremely low," and those that do succeed in obtaining legal aid are often represented by lawyers without domestic violence training (2007, 23). Instead, victims of domestic violence mainly rely on legal aid provided by NGOs, such as the Habeas Corpus Workgroup (OSI 2007, 23-24).

Act No. CXXXV of 2005 on the Assistance of Victims of Crimes and the Mitigation of their Damages provides for financial assistance to be given to victims of crimes "in cases where they are indigent" (ibid., 14). This assistance is drawn from an annual budget which in 2006 totalled 132 million forints [or approximately 727,000 Canadian dollars (Canada 3 Jan. 2006)] (OSI 2007, 14).

AI has criticized the lack of social, psychological and legal support available to female victims of domestic violence in Hungary (AI May 2007, Sec. 4). While the OSI notes that there is one shelter for female victims of domestic violence in Hungary, which is secret and funded and operated by the Salvation Army (OSI 2007, 32), according to WAVE, Hungary has no women's shelters (WAVE Dec. 2008, 81). Instead, female victims of domestic violence may seek shelter in one of three types of accommodation: "mothers' homes, families' temporary homes, and crisis homes" (OSI 2007, 32). Since these shelters are not exclusively reserved for female victims of domestic violence, there are concerns that they do not fully meet international quality standards (ibid.; WAVE Dec. 2008, 81). For instance, only a quarter of social workers working in these shelters have received training in gender-based violence (ibid.).

WAVE states that there are nine crisis shelters and one "super confidential shelter" which are available for women, men and children and have a combined total of approximately 100 places (Dec. 2008, 81), a figure consistent with that provided by the Hungarian government in 2000 (Hungary 2000b). However, WAVE believes that roughly 1,000 places are needed (WAVE Dec. 2008, 81). In 2007, approximately 1,367 women and 8 men were accommodated in these 10 shelters (ibid.), and one additional shelter was opened by the end of 2008 (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5). In addition to these 10 shelters, however, there are 108 state-funded "family shelters/homes," 60 percent of whose clients are victims of domestic violence (WAVE Dec. 2008, 81). According to the OSI, these homes provide four places for victims of domestic violence in each Hungarian county (OSI 2007, 13). There are also homes operated by religious and church groups, but these homes reportedly have waiting lists "so cannot provide immediate help" (ibid., 32). In total, approximately 516 people were admitted to Hungarian shelters in 2006 (UN 1 Aug. 2007).

In January 2004, the Hungarian government launched a pilot Crisis Centre Service to provide telephone or personal assistance, primarily intended for female victims of violence; the service was succeeded by a National Crisis Management and Information Telephone Service (Országos Kríziskezelo és Információs Telefonszolgálat, OKIT) (UN 15 June 2006, 35).

There are two national help lines that provide multilingual services and are available free of charge (OSI 2007, 32; WAVE Dec. 2008, 80). One is financed by a variety of governmental and NGOs and provides assistance 16 hours a day (ibid.). Another help line is funded by the government and provides 24-hour service (ibid.; OSI 2007, 11). Among the services offered by these help lines are legal information and placement in shelters (ibid., 33). In addition, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour runs a website on domestic violence (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5).

The OSI lists three leading NGOs that provide services to victims of domestic violence in Hungary:

  • The NANE Women's Rights Association, which is funded by various international organizations and governments (including Hungary and Canada), conducts "advocacy, personal support services and public education" to combat violence against women;

  • The Habeas Corpus Working Group, which is primarily funded by the EU, provides free legal assistance, including in some cases legal representation, to women and children victims of domestic violence;

  • The Women's Rights and Children's Rights Research and Training Centre, which receives funding from various international organizations and governments (including Hungary's Ministry for Social and Family Affairs and the Canadian Embassy), conducts research and training on violence against women and runs a legal clinic for law students. (OSI 2007, 28-29)

Domestic violence in the Romani community

Data released by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and presented to CEDAW revealed that violence against Romani women "is pervasive and takes place within and outside the Romani community"; some 42 percent of Romani women who participated in a survey on violence had at some point suffered from domestic violence (ERRC 23 July-10 Aug. 2007, 3). Of these victims, only 20 percent sought police assistance and "[i]n only 1 of 7 cases did the police respond effectively" (ibid.). The study found that Romani women tended to avoid reporting incidents to the police more than non-Roma because they lacked trust in law enforcement officials, believing that they were "targets of police surveillance and harassment" (ibid.). The ERRC also indicates that the reluctance of Roma to report crime is exacerbated by a lack of support networks (ibid.) and the "failure of the police to provide adequate protection to Romani women victims of violence" (ibid., 9). According to a report written by the UN's Independent Expert on Minority Issues following a mission to Hungary in the summer of 2006,

[w]hen Roma women are victims of domestic violence, discrimination against them as Roma makes unviable the recourse that non-Roma women might have to law enforcement, judicial sanctions or shelters. Access to, and knowledge of services for women remains an important obstacle for Roma women, and blockages in regard to the implementation of national policy at the municipal level exacerbates this. (UN 4 Jan. 2007, Para. 34)

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Amnesty International (AI). May 2007. Hungary: Cries Unheard – The Failure to Protect Women from Rape and Sexual Violence in the Home. [Accessed 13 Aug. 2009]

Canada. 3 January 2006. Bank of Canada. "Currency Conversion Results." [Accessed 28 Aug. 2009]

European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). 23 July – 10 August 2007. Written Comments of the European Roma Rights Centre Concerning Hungary For Consideration by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women at its 39th Session (July 23-August 10, 2007). [Accessed 28 Aug. 2009]

European Union (EU). 19 April 2007. "Legal Aid – Hungary." [Accessed 28 Aug. 2009]

Hungary. 2008. "Budgetary Appropriation in 2008." (UN Secretary-General's Database on Violence Against Women) [Accessed 12 Aug. 2009]
_____. 30 April 2007. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). "Responses to the List of Issues and Questions with Regard to the Consideration of the Sixth Periodic Report." (CEDAW/C/HUN/Q/6/Add.1) [Accessed 31 Aug. 2009]
_____. 2007. "Working Group on Violence Against Women." (UN Secretary-General's Database on Violence Against Women) [Accessed 12 Aug. 2009]
_____. 2006. "Act XIX of 1998 on Criminal Proceedings as Amended by Act 51 of 2006." (UN Secretary-General's Database on Violence Against Women) [Accessed 12 Aug. 2009]
_____. 2000a. "Permanent Fund for NGOs." (UN Secretary-General's Database on Violence Against Women) [Accessed 12 Aug. 2009]
_____. 2000b. "Shelters for Victims of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking." (UN Secretary-General's Database on Violence Against Women) [Accessed 12 Aug. 2009]
_____. 2000c. "Training for Judges." (UN Secretary-General's Database on Violence Against Women) [Accessed 12 Aug. 2009]
_____. 2000d. "Training for Police." (UN Secretary-General's Database on Violence Against Women) [Accessed 12 Aug. 2009]
_____. 1997. "Act LXXIII of 1997 Amending Act IV of the Criminal Code." (UN Secretary-General's Database on Violence Against Women) [Accessed 12 Aug. 2009]

Magyar Távirati Iroda (MTI). 5 May 2009. "Constitutional Court Strikes Down Law Against Domestic Violence." (EcoNews/Factiva)
_____. 20 April 2009. "Hungary: Number of 2008 Homicides Lowest in 40 Years." (EcoNews/Factiva)
_____. 6 January 2009. "Liberal MPs Criticise President for Blocking Law Against Domestic Violence (Adds PM)." (EcoNews/Factiva)
_____. 28 November 2008. "Justice Minister Hopes New Domestic Violence Bill Will Become Deterrent." (EcoNews/Factiva)

Open Society Institute (OSI). 2007. Violence Against Women: Does the Government Care in Hungary? [Accessed 31 Aug. 2009]

United Nations (UN). 10 August 2007. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Concluding Comments of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women: Hungary. (CEDAW/C/HUN/CO/6) [Accessed 31 Aug. 2009]
_____. 1 August 2007. "Hungary Highlights Gains in Combating Domestic Violence, Eliminating Stereotypes, as Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee Takes Up Country's Sixth Periodic Report." (States News Service/Factiva)
_____. 4 January 2007. Human Rights Council. Implementation of General Assembly Resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006 Entitled "Human Rights Council": Report of the Independent Expert on Minority Issues – Addendum: Mission to Hungary* (26 June – 3 July 2006). (A/HRC/4/9/Add.2) [Accessed 14 Sept. 2009]
_____. 15 June 2006. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: Sixth Periodic Report of States Parties – Hungary*. (CEDAW/C/HUN/6) [Accessed 31 Aug. 2009]

United States (US). 25 February 2009. "Hungary." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008. [Accessed 13 Aug. 2009]

Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE). December 2008. "Hungary." Country Report 2008. [Accessed 31 Aug. 2009]
_____. N.d. "Women Against Violence Europe." [Accessed 11 Sept. 2009]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources, including: Association of Hungarian NetWomen; Association of Hungarian Women; Association of Roma Women in Public Life; Association of Women for a New Beginning; Foundation for the Women of Hungary (MONA); NANE Women's Rights Association; National Council of Hungarian Women; Sisterhood Public Foundation; Soroptimist International Club of Pécs; Women's Rights and Children's Rights Research and Training Center.

Internet sites, including: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Budapest Times, Council of Europe (COE), European Country of Origin Information Network (ecoi.net), Foundation for the Women of Hungary, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Hungarian Helsinki Committee, International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), NANE Women's Rights Organization, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Peacewomen.org, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Stop Violence Against Women (stopVAW), Transitions Online.

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 http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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