Children's Amendment Bill: 18 September 2007


Portfolio Committee on Social Development

The Christian Action Network made a submission regarding the issue of parental corporal punishment, to the South African Law Reform Commission in 2003. The Christian Action Network is an umbrella body of Christian congregations and organisations that stand together in the socio-political arena to uphold the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all areas of life. CAN represents it’s 40 member organisations to government and to the media. CAN puts out press statements, makes submissions and representations to Parliament, and presents a co-ordinated voice on mutual concerns shared by the member organisations. CAN has consistently made submissions to Parliament regarding legislative threats to the family and the lives of pre-born babies for the last 16 years.

We will simply be concentrating our submission on Section 139 of the Bill.

The bill states in section 139 (1) that A person who has care of a child, including a person who has parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child, must respect, promote and protect the child’s right to physical and psychological integrity as conferred by section 12(1)(c), (d) and (e) of the Constitution.

(2) No child may be subjected to corporal punishment or be punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way.

(3) The common law defence of reasonable chastisement available to persons referred to in subsection (1) in any court proceeding is hereby abolished.

(4) No person may administer corporal punishment to a child or subject a child to any form of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment at a [any]child and youth care centre, partial care facility or shelter or drop-in centre.

The implication of this legalese is that all corporal (body) punishment, including spanking, hidings and smacking, will be outlawed. It would turn law-abiding, diligent parents into criminals overnight. If a father reasonably disciplines his own child and then is charged with assault, he will have no defence available in law.

Before this bill, “unreasonable chastisement” was outlawed and this protected children from abuse. However, to specifically outlaw “reasonable chastisement” is to force parents to neglect their Biblical and civic duty to discipline their children.

“He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” Proverbs 13:24

“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” Proverbs 22:15

“The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.” Proverbs 29:15

An outright ban on smacking could not be consistently enforced. It would waste police time on trivial incidents while genuine cases of child abuse go unchecked.

A ban is not necessary. An ordinary smack is not child abuse. Most parents smack their children at some point. Does Parliament believe they are all child abusers? Nor does smacking teach children that violence is the answer. Most people were smacked as a child and are now perfectly peaceful citizens.

Sweden has had a smacking ban for over 20 years. It has been a disaster. Child abuse has increased. Children have become more violent. More children have been taken away from their parents by the authorities.

To say children should have the same protection under the law as adults is an absurd oversimplification. There are many differences in law for children. For obvious reasons children are not allowed to drink alcohol, purchase cigarettes, drive, marry, vote or own a firearm licence. No one claims 'inequality' on these issues.

A vocal minority is calling for a total ban on all forms of physical punishment. This minority includes well-organised children’s charities and child-rights groups. They say that all smacking is child abuse. Most people disagree. Most reasonable people see there is a world of difference between abuse and loving discipline.

Mothers bear the burden of looking after young children. New laws on physical punishment will therefore target mothers as they struggle to raise their children. Children could convict their parents of assault just for spanking them.

Of course it is never right for a parent to spank when they have lost their temper. Nor should a parent discipline a child for being a child, it would be indefensible to smack a child who simply made a child’s mistake. And parents should never have inappropriate expectations or put impossible demands on their children. All this represents bad parenting. But banning all smacking is unnecessary and frankly unworkable.

Child abuse is already illegal. Social workers and the police certainly have their work cut out keeping up with the number of cases, but the law-makers have failed to explain how there are problems with the existing law. Indeed this has not even been attempted.

The existing law is firm enough and fair enough to protect children.

Our recommendation is: remove the ban on corporal punishment from the section 139 of the Bill and leave the existing law as it is.


Christian Action Network

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