New bid to have spanking banned

29 January 2012 - 02:06 By SUTHENTIRA GOVENDER

Parents who spank their children could soon be slapped with criminal charges - if a children's rights lobby group gets its way.

The Children's Rights Project, based at the University of the Western Cape, is asking the Department of Social Development to ban corporal punishment in South African homes in a proposal submitted last month. Its submission is supported by the Children's Institute, Childline SA and the Centre for Child Law and comes as the department considers giving children more rights by amending the Children's Act.

Department spokesman Lumka Oliphant confirmed that the issue would be discussed with stakeholders - children's rights campaigners, religious organisations and traditional leaders - at the department's second round of review consultations of the Children's Act between May 7 and 11.

This is the second bid by the Children's Rights Project to get spanking prohibited. An initial attempt failed in 2007 following opposition by cultural, religious and civil society groups.

Countries that have already banned corporal punishment in the home include Finland, Germany, Kenya, Poland, Sweden and Uruguay, according to the Ending Legalised Violence Against Children global report for 2011.

The report was compiled by the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, which is supported by the UN Children's Fund, Unicef.

This week critics again opposed any move to ban spanking in the home, saying it "would turn law-abiding, diligent parents into criminals overnight".

Taryn Hodgson, spokesman for the Christian Action Network, said it was not necessary.

"An ordinary spank is not child abuse. Most people were spanked as children and are perfectly peaceful citizens."

She also questioned how the state would police this, adding: "Children need guidance and correction and need to be taught what is right and what is wrong. This is the jurisdiction of parents and not the state."

Focus On The Family, a global Christian group, has also opposed the proposal - but said that for many school-going children, "the removal of pleasures or privileges is actually more painful than a spanking".

However, said spokesman Graeme Schnell: "We take the view that corporal punishment should be applied only in cases of wilful disobedience or defiance of authority." But campaigners supporting the latest bid believe it will have a major bearing on the rights of children and how they are raised.

The Children's Institute's senior advocacy coordinator, Lucy Jamieson, said it would enable children to take their parents to court for gross violations of their rights. "In repeat incidents of corporal punishment at home, a child will be able to lay a charge against their parent," she said.

The act, if amended, would make provision for children under 18 to report parents who used corporal punishment excessively.

Children's Rights Project researcher, Lorenzo Wakefield, said the proposal would also compel the government to teach parents about alternative methods of discipline. The Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA, which represents the interests of the country's traditional leaders and royal households, said it was sceptical. "We are interested to know what the alternatives are to ensure that children behave," said its president, Phathekile Holomisa. "We can't unconditionally support a total ban."

Educational expert Gerhard Olivier, who has compiled studies on corporal punishment in schools, welcomed the proposal. "When it becomes illegal for parents to smack their children, they can no longer use their religion or culture to justify the use of corporal punishment in their homes," he said.

Corporal punishment was abolished by the Schools Act of 1996, yet a recent report by US-based Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children this week said it was still widespread in South Africa.