South Africa: How Outlawing Parents Hitting Children Will Lead to More Peaceful South Africa

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(file photo).
10 October 2019

Cape Town — South Africa has become the 57th country to prohibit the corporal punishment of children. This comes after the Constitutional Court's ruling that the common law defence of 'reasonable and moderate chastisement' is unconstitutional.'s Jerry Chifamba spoke with Isabel Magaya, Senior Project Co-ordinator at the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria.

How do you feel about the ruling?

I think it's quite symbolic, it will help parents understand, as much as it's a difficult time and difficult notion for parents to accept. I think it will be a good thing for parents to actually learn about children's rights, that children are not merely an extension of them but they are also individual rights holders. So the I think the judgement itself is a good first step.

Do you think it will change the behaviour of parents and caregivers in South Africa?

If they don't they might as well take themselves to the nearest police station, so I think yes they will change their behaviour. It will be difficult but there will be some changes.

What are some of the mental health effects physical discipline has on children?

The evidence of harm that was presented to court is more on the psychological effect. The fact that it instills fear in children, it affects how children relate with other children at school, how children deal with issues such as conflict with their peers.

What do you say to people who want a return to corporal punishment at school? My experience has been that we'd study more and eventually pass because we were scared of getting beaten.

There are better ways of achieving that same goal. I also come from a school where we were beaten, I was in boarding school and if it was time for study and people would be loitering around or chatting, we'd get beaten. So we were forced into behaving well, out of fear. Looking at South Africa specifically within the context of child abuse and high levels of violence against children, there are ways to discipline children without the use of violence. If we adopt such an approach, it will be beneficial not only for children but for the society more broadly.

What are the better ways?

Talking to your child and telling them what they are doing is wrong. One of the things we're advocating for in the 3rd amendment in the Children's Act is to have a provision on discipline where parents are taught about other ways to discipline their children that are not violent, so it includes engaging with your child, explaining to your child, helping them understand what they have done wrong and the consequences thereof. So the issue around policy and discipline is something that we need to engage with as a country. So in the ConCourt judgement, the Chief Justice mentioned that parliament needs to develop a regulatory framework and one of the things that needs to come out of that regulatory framework, the Children's Act in particular, is what is positive discipline in South Africa, what does it mean and what does it looks like?

Could physical discipline of children be linked to violence against women and children in South Africa?

Research evidence shows that violent behaviour is learnt behaviour. So they learn it from home.There was evidence that was also presented in court from an expert of violence against women and children in South Africa where he indicated that when children are exposed to violence in the home, there's a high possibility for a boy when he grows up, to become a perpetrator and for a girl when she grows up, to become a victim. So if we look at the judgement in the context of the high levels of violence in South Africa, you'd be able to understand why we need that change, because we're hoping that 15-20 years from now, South Africa would not be as violent a society as it is. So this is one of the elements that contribute to a violent society. There's also issues around toxic masculinity.

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