Outlawing corporal punishment forces us to re-imagine discipline

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
Many parents resort to corporal punishment because it is one of the quickest ways to get a child to listen. /123RF
Many parents resort to corporal punishment because it is one of the quickest ways to get a child to listen. /123RF

On December 5 last year, in this very column, I wrote a piece disdaining corporal punishment because of the detrimental ripple effect it has on our society.

You can imagine my excitement last Wednesday when chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng upheld a 2017 high court ruling that made it illegal for parents to hit their children at home.

Mogoeng declared the common law defence of moderate and reasonable chastisement unconstitutional on the grounds that it violates the child's right not to be discriminated against based on age, equal protection under the law, dignity, freedom from all forms of violence and degradation, and bodily and psychological integrity.

In our everyday lives, when we hit someone it is considered assault. It is never justified as discipline.

Why does this principle stop when a child is involved?

Why does giving birth to someone or being an adult take away the fact that it is indeed assault? Yes, I am calling it assault because that is exactly what it is. We use words like spanking to make ourselves feel better about what is really violence.

I call it assault because the lines are blurry when it comes to such things. Who dictates what is a spank or a serious hit? What is a spank to one parent can be seen as abusive by someone else. Where would the buck stop?

This is why I am glad that corporal punishment in its entirety has been outlawed. The state is a custodian for children, and children are the most vulnerable group in our country.

This ruling is consistent with the laws of this country because it is protecting the most vulnerable group in our country, and it is long overdue, if you ask me.

What I appreciate even more about this ruling is that people can finally speak out against parents who choose to hit their children. It is now illegal to do so.

We will no longer be shut down by statements such as "to each their own" or "you can't tell me how to raise my own children".

Freedom of Religion South Africa (For SA) believes that the judgment makes criminals of well-meaning parents. The Constitutional Court is not criminalising parents. It is, however, forcing parents to re-imagine discipline.

Many parents resort to corporal punishment because it is one of the quickest ways to get a child to listen. However, is it not problematic that we as parents are too lazy to speak to a child at their level, tell them what is wrong with their behaviour and find alternative ways of disciplining, such as grounding, extra chores and withholding access to toys and gadgets that our children absolutely adore?

Corporal punishment is the easy way out. You are instilling fear and forcing submission, instead of using the time to instil principles and lessons.

What baffles me even more about the uproar regarding this Constitutional Court ruling is that our country has been coming face to face with the scourge of gender-based violence and violence against children but at the same time we want to hold on to practices that reinforce the very violence we are fighting against.

We cannot use violence to solve issues and think our children will outgrow violence naturally and become men and women who do not use violence as a means of solving issues. The fight against gender-based violence and all forms of violence begins in the home.

We do not teach children alternative, constructive methods of dealing with problems. This creates adults who are not equipped with the emotional resources and capacity that will enable them to deal with conflict constructively. Why waste time partaking in lengthy talks and bargaining over issues when you can hit someone?

Many parents justify beating children by stating that they grew up this way and it worked. How about creating new practices that are less harmful but just as effective? We will never know the possibilities until we do things differently.

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