Corporal punishment in the home is not given much attention in the South African law but some concerned parents, together with the Human Rights Commission and some international organisations are pushing to have the practice banned completely.
This agitation may be born out of anger on the recent cases of physical abuse on children at home some of which led to death.
The Children’s Act of 2005 defines abuse in relation to a child as “any form of harm or ill-treatment deliberately inflicted on a child” including “assaulting a child or inflicting any other form of deliberate injury to a child” and “exposing or subjecting a child to behavior that may harm the child psychologically or emotionally”.
The Advocates of ending corporal punishment argue that this definition matches the act of physically hurting a child to correct behavior.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has called on government to completely put an end to corporal punishment in the domestic environment. The commission recommending that Cabinet should make an offence all cases of spanking and other forms of physical discipline that people lash out on their innocent children.
According to the SAHRC, physical abuse of children within homes and schools is generally accepted in South Africa, and many children are subjected to corporal punishment.
A nationwide survey found that more than half (57%) of parents with children under the age of 18 are reported to be smacking their children at some point and 33% reported to be using a belt or other objects to hit their children.
And even though corporal punishment in school is outlawed, 12.4% of children reportedly experience physical discipline by teachers in school
Currently, only 49 countries across the world have adopted this idea of putting a ban on corporal punishment in all forms. These include countries like Denmark, Germany, Spain, Kenya and even the Democratic Republic of Congo among others.
It’s a different case in South Africa as corporal punishment is only illegal in all other areas except for the home but this may soon be a thing of the past.
Using corporal punishment in schools was abolished in 1996 with legislation making it a criminal offence for teachers and school authorities to physically abuse children as a form of discipline or punishment. However, these laws do not apply to physical discipline at home.
Despite the ban on corporal punishment in schools, South African Council of Educators (SACE) received 245 reports of corporal punishment against teachers in the 2014-2015 academic year, compared to 202 reported cases in 2013-2014.
The global lobby group End Corporal Punishment said, South African parents are protected under common law, which states that they have the power “to inflict moderate and reasonable chastisement on a child for misconduct.” Nevertheless, it is important that it’s not done in an offensive way to good morals or for reasons other than correction and admonition.
This power to punish a child can also be delegated to a person acting in a parent’s place like a nanny or otherwise (except for teachers and educators which are prohibited by law).
SAHRC has observed that “Most violence happens in the domestic sphere and is perpetrated by persons in authority over the child”.
Meanwhile, according to the group, on top of the Children’s Second Amendment Bills tables in 2015, there is a Children’s Third Amendment Bill in the works, to be tabled later this year.
This bill reportedly states that “no child may be subjected to corporal punishment or be punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way” and “the common law defence of reasonable chastisement … is hereby abolished”.
This bill if signed into law, may mean some jail time for perpetrators of child abuse at home in the name of correcting the child.