Domestic violence and spousal abuse; state protection available to victims; recent legislation or government initiatives [2002-March 2004] [HUN42380.E]

Domestic abuse and violence against women remains a widespread problem in Hungary (Country Reports 2003 25 Feb. 2004, Sec. 5; UN 27 Feb. 2003, 2005; NANE 2003a; VV Sept. 2003; COE 2 Sept. 2002, 6). However, reports indicate that Hungarian law remains deficient in responding to, and protecting victims of abuse (ibid.; SEELINE 9 July 2003a; ibid.; 17 July 2003, Sec. 8; UN 27 Feb. 2003, 2006) and the government has done little to remedy a reported low social awareness of the problem (ibid., 2005). In 2002 and 2003, Hungary's national NGO community was critical of the governmental and law enforcement response to the situation of domestic abuse victims in Hungary as well as their ability to provide protection to victims (VV Sept. 2003; NANE 2003a; HCWG and NANE 4 Aug. 2002, 27-28, 30; CRLP and NANE 8 Mar. 2002, Sec. B.1).

Prevalence of Domestic Violence

Reliable statistics on the prevalence of domestic violence against women in Hungary are not available (COE Nov. 2002, Sec. 1.2; UN 27 Feb. 2003, 2005). With respect to estimates, studies from 1998 and 1999 indicate that at least one million women were victims of domestic violence and between 50 and 150 women were murdered by family members annually (CRLP 8 Mar. 2002, n. 32; see also NANE 2003a). Country Reports 2003, citing the Hungarian NGO NANE Women's Rights Association (also known as the Women Against Violence (NANE)), reported that "20 [per cent] of women were threatened by or were victims of domestic violence and one woman per week was beaten to death" in Hungary (25 Feb. 2004, Sec. 5). In 2000, official statistics reported that 25 per cent of women over the age of 14 years are victims of domestic violence and 66 per cent of the crimes having female victims occur in the home (UN 27 Feb. 2003, 2005; COE Nov. 2002, Sec. 1.2).

Estimates are difficult to make because many victims of domestic violence fail to report their situation to police or other third parties because they fear being blamed for the violence (NANE 2003a; UN 27 Feb. 2003, 2005), fear of repercussions and public ridicule or expect that police will be indifferent (IHF 11 May 2000, 206 CER 14 May 2001). For example, the IHF reported in 2000 that only 22.8 per cent of victims of domestic violence report incidents (11 May 2000, 206). Hungarian domestic violence specialist Krisztina Morvai noted in 2001 that although some women do report abuse, many later retract their complaints because they fear their abusers (CER 14 May 2001).

With respect to police statistics, Eniko Pap, a national lawyer for the Women's Rights and Children's Rights Research and Training Center (DIM Mar. 2003) and author of three recent in-depth reports on the situation of women in Hungary for the South Eastern European Women's Legal Initiative (SEELINE) (SEELINE 17 July 2003; ibid. 9 July 2003a; ibid. 9 July 2003b) stated that law enforcement agencies maintain statistics based only on the criminal classification of the crime and includes only prosecuted cases (ibid.). Since there is no law against domestic violence, the prosecutor's office does not keep separate statistics and none of its publications specifically details violence against women (ibid.).

Social Attitudes

Country Reports 2003 calls Hungarian social attitudes toward domestic violence "archaic" (25 Feb. 2004, Sec. 5). Based on research conducted between 1995 and 2000, Hungarian domestic violence specialist Krisztina Morvai came to the conclusion in 2001 that although "domestic violence [was] a widespread phenomenon in Hungary [it was] addressed neither by any coherent or comprehensive public policy, nor by social or criminal justice policies" (IHS 2001, 2). Sources dating from 2002 and 2003 corroborate Morvai's observations (NANE 2003a; VV Sept. 2003; COE 2 Sept. 2002, 6; UN 27 Feb. 2003, 2005). Hungarian society often blames the victim of abuse for the violence she receives (CER 14 May 2001) and places the burden of proof on the victim's shoulders in many cases (NANE 10 Apr. 2002). Such misconceptions and prejudices on the part of Hungarian society, according to NANE, is a reason for the state's failure to appropriately intervene into cases of domestic violence (ibid. 2003a).

Although violence against women reportedly affects all sectors of Hungarian society (VV Sept. 2003), public debate on the subject is muted (NANE 2003a; UN 27 Feb. 2003, 2005). The UN Special Rapporteur reported that the government has done little to raise awareness in public opinion, the media or in education (ibid.). Rather, according to the Hungarian NGOs Habeas Corpus Working Group (HCWG) and NANE, state authorities meet problems related to women's issues with silence or deny the need for "complex treatment" of the problem (4 Aug. 2002, 34).

Current Legislation and Official Attitudes

Several 2003 reports state that domestic violence was not criminalized in the Hungarian Criminal Code (SEELINE 9 July 2003a; ibid.; 17 July 2003, Sec. 8; UN 27 Feb. 2003, 2006; VV Mar. 2003; COE Nov. 2002, Sec. 1.2). Instead, according to a 2002 report to the Council of Europe (COE) by the Secretariat for Women's Issues of the Hungarian Ministry of Social and Family Affairs, there are several provisions in the penal code make it possible to conduct criminal proceedings and impose a penalty on abusers (ibid.). However, in 2004, Country Reports 2003 stated that domestic violence was prohibited under Hungarian law (25 Feb. 2004, Sec. 5). While the Research Directorate found a number of reports discussing pending legislation specifically outlawing domestic violence (see below), it found no reports indicating that such a law was incorporated by March 2004 among the sources consulted.

A 1997 amendment to the penal code designated spousal rape as a criminal offence (COE Nov. 2002, Sec. 1.2; see also HCWG and NANE 4 Aug. 2002, 27; Country Reports 2003 25 Feb. 2004, Sec. 5); however, stalking is not recognized as a crime (ibid., 28; CRLP and NANE 8 Mar. 2002, Sec. B.1; NANE 10 Apr. 2002). A representative of NANE imparted to the Research Directorate in 2002 that Hungarian law "does not recognize ... the concept of verbal abuse (apart from in front of large audiences, like in a TV broadcast) [and] does not include the institution of the restraining order" (ibid.).

Domestic violence is also not considered in Hungary's Family Code (SEELINE 9 July 2003a) and there are no special provisions stipulating special procedural orders, actions or deadlines in cases of domestic violence so as to provide protection and restraining orders (ibid.). While procedural law with respect to the dissolution of marriage or the division of property does not acknowledge domestic violence (ibid.; 17 July 2003, Sec. 8), Supreme Court Directive No. 17 (as amended by Directive No. 24) guides court decisions on the placement of children and designates proven spousal abuse as grounds to prove a parent's unsuitability (ibid. 9 July 2003a).

In April 2001 the Ministry of Social and Family Affairs developed a "draft concept" entitled Concept On the Act Assisting the Combat for the Protection of Human Dignity and Violence against Women (SEELINE 9 July 2003a). However, there has been no effort to institute this concept into law (ibid.) despite the fact that it would bring Hungary more closely in line European Union and international conventions (UN 27 Feb. 2003, 1999). According to the executive director of NANE, official attitudes toward the criminalization of domestic violence are strongly resistant to introducing specific legislation (Vital Voices Sept. 2003). For example, Ibolya David, the Minister of Justice in 2000, reportedly concluded that such legislation was unneeded since the Hungarian Penal Code had the necessary tools necessary to prosecute cases of domestic violence (NANE 10 Apr. 2002). NANE has accused Hungarian authorities of failing to effectively use public and private sectors to find a solution to the problem (VV Sept. 2003).

Even so, Wirth noted in September 2003 that Hungary had made some important progress in the fight against domestic and other forms of violence against women in recent years (ibid.). SEELINE reported that recent NGO, public and media pressure resulted in the submission to Parliament in December 2002 of a draft parliamentary resolution geared to respond to domestic violence (SEELINE 9 July 2003a). In 2003, Hungarian legislators adopted the Parliamentary Resolution on Domestic Violence and the Ministry of Interior and the head of the National Police Headquarters have since proposed regulations punishing acts of domestic violence (ibid.). Among the provisions contained within law enforcements' proposals is the prioritization of protection and restraining order legislation in Hungary (ibid.).

Investigation of Complaints and State Protection

In 2001, the Secretariat for Women's Issues indicated that the 1997 Child Protection Act declared the state responsible for providing support and protection in the form of accommodation to women and their children who are forced to escape their homes due to abuse (COE Nov. 2002, Sec. 1.2). The Secretariat also noted positive results in the development of a network of family-aid services and specialists responding to domestic violence (ibid.).

However, several sources indicate that state response to victims of domestic violence has proven to be ineffective (HRW 2002; Country Reports 2003 25 Feb. 2004, Sec. 5; SEELINE 9 July 2003a; NANE 10 Apr. 2002). NANE told the Research Directorate in 2002 that precisely because the penal code lacks specific domestic violence legislation- in theory, relying on existing acts found throughout the code-police fail to investigate complaints of spousal abuse (ibid.). Victims of domestic violence report that police will refuse to file complaints of abuse (NANE 10 Apr. 2002), refuse to investigate a scene unless "blood is shed" (ibid.; SEELINE 9 July 2003a), claim that they will not interfere in a "'family affair'" (IHF 11 May 2000, 206; SEELINE 9 July 2003a) or claim they are not allowed to enter a private home (ibid.). Country Reports 2003 stated that police and prosecutors tend to be unsympathetic to victims (25 Feb. 2003, Sec. 5). When investigations do occur, police consider the case only on the basis of extant crimes including bodily harm, coercion or the restriction of personal freedom: that the act occurred within a family structure is not a relevant factor affecting sentencing (SEELINE 9 July 2003a). In 2001, Morvai claimed that perpetrators, for the most part, faced a fine or a suspended sentence (IHS 2001, 16).

Country Reports 2003, NANE, HCWG and the Centre for Reproductive Rights (called the Centre for Reproductive Law and Policy [CRLP] before 2003) all noted since 2002 that the protection of victims of abuse is inadequate in Hungary (HCWG and NANE 4 Aug. 2002, 30; CRLP and NANE 8 Mar. 2002, Sec. B.1; Country Reports 2003 25 Feb. 2004, Sec. 5). CRLP and NANE go on to note that "[n]either law enforcement officials nor courts make efforts to guarantee the safety of abused women and their children" (CRLP and NANE 8 Mar. 2002, Sec. B.1). Furthermore, a victim's personal data is at risk in a civil procedure because personal data is often announced by authorities (for example courts) during the procedure (SEELINE 9 July 2003a) and the abuser has the right to know the location of his children even if they reside with a mother who has escaped violence (NANE 10 Apr. 2002).

State-Operated Shelters and Support Mechanisms

While the 2003 UN assessment, the Council of Europe and Country Reports 2003 suggested that state-run shelters were available to trafficking victims and battered women (UN 27 Feb. 2003, 2003; COE 2 Sept. 2002, 6; Country Reports 2003 25 Feb. 2004, Sec. 5), Hungarian NGOs claim that there are no such centres within the Hungarian legal system (HCWG and NANE 4 Aug. 2002, 30; SEELINE 9 July 2003a). Furthermore, the state has not established special institutions of support for women victims of violence (ibid.) and there are no mechanisms to force abusers to leave a residence (NANE 10 Apr. 2002).

Since 1998, Hungary has had a specific government department called the Office of Women's Issues (SEELINE 9 July 2003b), which "provid[es] support and a forum for the general NGOs as well as for those dealing with women's issues" (UN 27 Feb. 2003, 2002). However, Eniko Pap of the Women's Rights and Children's Rights Research and Training Center noted that the office has no specific scope of authority, no local or regional subunits and a very limited role in legislation (SEELINE 9 July 2003b).

NGOs Operated Shelters and Support Mechanisms

According to reports, the Salvation Army runs the only available domestic abuse shelter with state support; however, it has the capacity for only 20 persons or three families (SEELINE 9 July 2003a; HCWG and NANE 4 Aug. 2002, 28).

Despite the Secretariat for Women's Issues claims in 2000 that it sought "to improve co-operation between the state organs and between state-organs and non-governmental organizations by introducing co-ordinated training models" (COE Nov. 2002, Sec. 1.2), two reports published since then argue that the Hungarian government has failed to provide sufficient support to NGOs (SEELINE 9 July 2003a; HCWG and NANE 4 Aug. 2002, 21). Indeed, in 2002, NANE and HCWG go as far as to accuse the Hungarian government of ignoring the NGO community and of failing to utilize extant services (ibid., 30). Since 1994, NANE is the only Hungarian NGO that exclusively provides assistance to victims of violence and the crisis hotline (ibid.; NANE n.d.). The latter is open for four hours a day, seven days a week and is staffed by 15 trained volunteers (HCWG and NANE 4 Aug. 2002, 24; NANE 2003b). In addition, NANE (NANE 2003b), the HCWG (HCWG and NANE 4 Aug. 2002, 34) and the Programme Office of Legal Aid for the Women's and Children's Rights Research and Training Center (SEELINE 9 July 2003a) each provide legal assistance.

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 to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Central Europe Review (CER) [London]. 14 May 2001. Vol. 3, No. 17. Gusztáv Kosztalányi. "Safe Haven? Interview with Professor Krisztina Morvai on Domestic Violence in Hungary. Part II." [Accessed 23 Feb. 2004]

Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRLP), New York and NANE Women's Rights Association, Budapest. 8 March 2002. "Re: Supplementary Information on Hungary." Letter to the United Nations Human Rights Committee during the 74th Session. [Accessed 17 Feb. 2004]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2003. 25 Feb. 2004. United States Department of State. Washington, D.C. [Accessed 16 Mar. 2004]

Council of Europe (COE). November 2002. "Hungary." Legislation in the Member States of the Council of Europe in the Field of Violence against Women. (EG [2001] 03rev) [Accessed 18 Feb. 2004]

_____. 2 September 2002. "Report by Mr. Alvaro Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights On His Visit to Hungary, 11-14 June 2002." (CommDH [2002] 6) [Accessed 17 Feb. 2004]

Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte (DIM), Berlin. March 2003. "The Optional Protocol to CEDAW Mitigating Violations of Women's Human Rights." Conference Agenda. [Accessed 19 Feb. 2004]

Habeas Corpus Working Group (HCWG), Budapest and NANE Women's Rights Association, Budapest. 4 August 2002. Shadow Report: the Joint Report of the Women Against Violence (NANE) Association and the Habeas Corpus Working Group (HCWG) on the Realization of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in Hungary Incorporating a Critical Examination of the Report of the Hungarian Government Presented at the 2002 August Session of the CEDAW Committee of the UN." [Accessed 17 Feb. 2004]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 2002. Human Rights Watch World Report 2002. [Accessed 17 Feb. 2004]

Institute for Human Sciences (IHS), Vienna. 2001. Krisztina Morvai. 'Why Doesn't She Just Leave?' Research-Based Policy Recommendations for the Prevention of and Response to Domestic Violence in Hungary. Project Paper No. 101 [Accessed 23 Feb. 2004]

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF). 11 May 2000. "Hungary." Women 2000 - An Investigation into the Status of Women's Rights in Central and South-Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States [Accessed 23 Feb. 2004]

NANE Women's Rights Association, Budapest. 2003a. "Domestic Violence: Don't Tolerate Violence!" NANE Pamphlet. [Accessed 17 Feb. 2004]

_____. 2003b. "Mission and Goals of NANE Women's Rights Association." [Accessed 18 Feb. 2004]

_____. 10 April 2002. Correspondence from a representative.

_____. n.d. "Welcome to the English Homepage of NANE Women's Rights Association." [Accessed 20 Feb. 2004]

South Eastern European Women's Legal Initiative (SEELINE). 17 July 2003. Eniko Pap. Family Law Report: Hungary. [Accessed 18 Feb. 2004]

_____. 9 July 2003a. Eniko Pap. Criminal Code Report: Hungary. [Accessed 18 Feb. 2004]

_____. 9 July 2003b. Eniko Pap. National Machinery: Hungary. [Accessed 18 Feb. 2004]

United Nations (UN). 27 February 2003. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). International, Regional and National Developments In the Area of Violence against Women 1994-2003. Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Submitted in Accordance With Commission on Human Rights 2002/52 Addendum 1. (E/CN.4/2003/75/Add1) [Accessed 13 Feb. 2004]

Vital Voices (VV), Washington. September 2003. Judit Wirth. "Hungary: An Update from the Field." [Accessed 17 Feb. 2004]

_____. March 2003. "Towards a Nation Free From Violence Against Women: Hungarian Women Leaders Combating Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence." Global Leadership Institute at Georgetown University. [Accessed 17 Feb. 2004]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including:

European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, European Country of Origin Information Network, European Union Comprehensive Monitoring Report on Hungary's Preparations for Membership (2003), European Union Enlargement Countries: Hungary, Network of East-West Women Listserve, Stability Pact - Gender Task Force, United Nations, Committee on Human Rights. Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 40 of the Covenant. (19 April 2002)

Associated documents