Spank­ing your child leads to neg­a­tive out­comes


CHIL­DREN’S rights ac­tivists have chal­lenged an ap­peal made by a re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tion to over­turn the rul­ing declar­ing all forms of phys­i­cal cor­rec­tion of chil­dren by their par­ents illegal.

The Con­sti­tu­tional Court heard the ap­peal brought by Free­dom of Re­li­gion South Africa (FOR SA) last Thurs­day, who be­lieve the High Court judg­ment will make crim­i­nals of well-mean­ing par­ents who love their chil­dren and want only what is best for them.

FOR SA at­tor­ney Daniela Eller­beck said the ef­fect of the judg­ment meant that if a par­ent lightly slapped their child’s wrist, the par­ent could be ar­rested and pros­e­cuted for as­sault.

If con­victed, the par­ent would have a crim­i­nal record for abuse.

She said a “triv­ial non-in­ju­ri­ous slap” could also re­sult in the child be­ing re­moved from the fam­ily home.

“One can only imag­ine the dam­age this will do to fam­i­lies.”

Eller­beck said that while FOR SA op­posed any form of vi­o­lence against chil­dren, there was a clear dis­tinc­tion be­tween vi­o­lence, abuse, and mild non-in­ju­ri­ous phys­i­cal cor­rec­tion.

She added that many South Africans be­lieved the Bible per­mit­ted phys­i­cal cor­rec­tion of chil­dren and that mild phys­i­cal cor­rec­tion was in the best in­ter­est of chil­dren.

High Court Judge Ray­lene Keight­ley had made the rul­ing af­ter a fa­ther had ap­pealed a judg­ment in which he was found guilty on two charges of as­sault with in­tent to do griev­ous bod­ily harm, against his wife and son, who he claimed to have found watch­ing porn, last year.

How­ever, Carol Bower of The Peace Cen­tre, which, to­gether with the Chil­dren’s In­sti­tute, and Sonke Gen­der Jus­tice were rep­re­sented by the Cen­tre for Child Law, said re­search had shown that mild forms of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment led to neg­a­tive out­comes in chil­dren.

She said pun­ish­ment in­creased chil­dren’s ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour and those who are smacked or spanked are more likely to act out against other chil­dren.

Divya Naidoo, the child pro­tec­tion pro­gramme man­ager at Save the Chil­dren South Africa, said there are fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences be­tween pos­i­tive dis­ci­pline and cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment.

“Dis­ci­pline does not mean pun­ish­ment. Cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment may re­sult in im­me­di­ate com­pli­ance, but does not lead to self-dis­ci­pline and, in fact, of­ten re­sults in re­peated mis­be­haviour.

“Pos­i­tive dis­ci­pline, on the other hand, is about guid­ing and teach­ing a child to de­velop un­der­stand­ing, self-dis­ci­pline and long-term changes in be­hav­iour.”

Me­gan Pil­lay, a mother to a three­year-old son, said par­ents should be al­lowed to spank their chil­dren within rea­son­able means.

“The child should be of an age of com­pre­hen­sion and able to es­tab­lish right from wrong. For me, a spank should only be on the bum. I come from a Chris­tian background and have been taught ‘spare the rod spoil the child’.”

She said she in­stilled dis­ci­pline by ground­ing her son to the naughty cor­ner and con­fis­cat­ing his toys.

Com­mu­ni­cat­ing with a child, she added, was vi­tal – so they are aware of their bad be­hav­iour and the resultant reper­cus­sions.

A mother of four daugh­ters, aged be­tween 10 months and 8 years, said par­ents should dis­ci­pline their chil­dren in a way fit to them.

“Even if that means giv­ing a smack when needed. How­ever, the key here is rea­son­able dis­ci­pline. The point is to de­ter your child from do­ing the same thing. If you dis­ci­pline a child in the right way the out­come will be pos­i­tive in the long run.”

A fa­ther of two (aged eight and 11), ad­vo­cate Kr­ishen Shah, said: “Chil­dren need to have bound­aries and need to learn there are con­se­quences for trans­gress­ing… My par­ents never hes­i­tated to give us a hid­ing if we were out of line. This, how­ever, was not an in­fre­quent oc­cur­rence, but we turned out okay.”

He said if a par­ent hit a child more than once to get a mes­sage across, and hit out of anger, then the bound­aries are be­ing crossed.

“If you hit as you would an adult then clearly that is abuse.”

The court had re­served judg­ment af­ter hear­ing ar­gu­ments from both par­ties.

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