Spanking vs naughty corner square up in Concourt
Legal minds to consider whether 'light chastisement' is appropriate for children in the home
To spank, or not to spank.
That is the question SA’s top judges will grapple with on Thursday when a religious group and child protection activists square up in the Constitutional Court over whether parents should have the right to physically discipline their children.
Freedom of Religion South Africa launched the application in an appeal against a judgment by the South Gauteng High Court which struck down the defence of “reasonable chastisement” in October 2017.
The court found that a defence that allows parents to physically discipline their children violates children’s rights and that the protection of children from all forms of violence is critical in the context of alarmingly high levels of violence against children.
Freedom of Religion South Africa says it is acting in the public interest on behalf of not only Christians, but others who believe that “reasonable and moderate physical correction” is a central tenet of their faith.
“The order has potentially dire consequences for parents, children and society,” the organisation says. “It raises gravely important constitutional issues regarding the rights of parents to raise their children with effective discipline.
“And the most vulnerable children in society, who come from impoverished circumstances and live in circumstances where positive parenting methods, such as sitting in the ‘naughty corner’, are also affected.”
It argues that it is neither for nor against physical chastisement, although it is against violent abuse, and supports prosecutions in those circumstances.
But it argues that it stands for the right of parents to decide for themselves what is in the best interests of their children.
“Positive parenting does very little to curb misbehaviour ... let alone rebelliousness. It does not prepare children for the harsh reality of life, that there are negative consequences for non compliant behaviour.”
But the organisation is up against the might of the Children’s Institute, the Quaker Peace Centre and Sonke Gender Justice, who are all represented by the Centre for Child Law.
In written submissions they say Freedom of Religion South Africa’s arguments are nonsense, and “positive parenting” is the solution.
“The aim is to develop an ethos or inner conviction in the child that will ensure that they will behave well, even when their parents are not present. It builds feelings of confidence and assertiveness rather than feelings of helplessness and humiliation,” they say.
“Many researchers argue that corporal punishment is ineffective and linked to negative outcomes for children.
“And it does not require material aids or expensive tools, such as taking away a privilege. It is about the relationship between the parent and the child.”
The child’s rights groups say fears that “hundreds of parents” will be imprisoned or criminalised for minor transgressions are unfounded, and there had been no increase in prosecutions in countries that had adopted similar child protection laws.
Instead there had been a “societal shift” towards nonviolent means of correcting bad behaviour.
Research shows that when a community accepts corporal punishment, parents feel justified using it. It is widely accepted and practised in South Africa.
Research shows that 33% of parents report using severe corporal punishment.
The most common age of children who are smacked is three years, and four years for those beaten with a belt or a stick.
“It is difficult to understand how such forms of punishment are in the best interests of the child or promote harmonious development of the child.”
In a joint press release, the child’s rights groups said: “The Constitutional Court will take several months to deliver its judgment on corporal punishment in the home, but parents and caregivers have the power to change their behaviour now. The time to stop hitting children is now.”