South African law is murky when it comes to corporal punishment in the home – but some parents, along with the Human Rights Commission and international organisations are pushing to have the practice outlawed completely.
The South African Human Rights Commission has called on government to put an end to corporal punishment at home, recommending that Cabinet criminalise spanking and other forms of physical discipline.
There are currently only 49 countries across the globe that have an outright ban on corporal punishment in all forms.
These include countries such as Denmark, Germany, Spain, Kenya and even the Democratic Republic of Congo.
South Africa outlaws corporal punishment in all areas except for the home – something which may soon change.
Corporal punishment in schools was abolished in 1996 with legislation making it illegal for teachers and other educators to physically harm children as a form of discipline.
However, these laws do not prohibit physical discipline at home.
According to global lobby group End Corporal Punishment, 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.”
This is provided that it is not done in a manner offensive to good morals or for objects other than correction and admonition.
This power can also be delegated to a person acting in a parent’s place (except for teachers and educators which are prohibited by law).
The law is clear about child abuse. 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 behaviour that may harm the child psychologically or emotionally”.
Proponents of ending corporal punishment argue that this definition matches the act of physically hurting a child to correct behaviour.
According to the SAHRC, there is widespread acceptance of physical abuse of children within homes and schools, and many children are subjected to corporal punishment.
A national survey found that more than half (57%) of parents with children under 18 reported smacking their children at some point and 33% reported using a belt or object to hit their children.
And even though corporal punishment in school is outlawed, 12.4% of children reportedly experienced physical discipline by teachers in school.
The South African Council of Educators (SACE) received 245 reports of corporal punishment against teachers in the 2014-2015 financial year, compared to 202 reported cases in 2013-2014.
“Most violence happens in the domestic sphere and is perpetrated by persons in authority over the child,” the SAHRC said.
According to the group, on top of the Children’s and Children’s Second Amendment Bills tables in 2015, there is a Children’s Third Amendment Bill in the works, to be tabled sometime in 2016.
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”.