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.