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Judgment reserved in child spanking appeal

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The Constitutional Court has reserved judgment on the case about whether parents should be allowed to spank their children.

THE CONSTITUTIONAL Court has reserved judgment on the case about whether parents should be allowed to spank their children.

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA), a non-profit Christian organisation, has battled it out at the court against the State and children’s rights organisations against spanking.

Reg Willies SC, arguing on behalf of FOR SA, told the highest court in the land that parents should be allowed to apply “reasonable” and “moderate” chastisement on their children.

There was a clear distinction between such chastisement and abuse, he said.

FOR SA sought to have a high court ruling that outright banned spanking set aside.

In the groundbreaking judgment delivered last year in October, Judge Raylene Keightley ruled that spanking children was unconstitutional.

The ruling paved the way for development of law to criminalise spanking.

Keightley was presiding in an application of a Joburg father found guilty of assaulting his son.

In papers, Michael Swain, executive director at FOR SA, said in his affidavit that Keightley’s judgment was erroneous because it left parents with no other way of disciplining children.

“Our concern is that the judgment disempowers parents, especially those who live in poorer areas in overcrowded accommodation who do not have the luxury of sending children to ‘naughty corners’ and where there are few, if any, privileges to take away,” said Swain.

But the State and a number of civil groups argued in favour of banning spanking.

In the State’s papers, Nkosinathi Dladla, legal services director in the Department of Social Development, said children should be protected from violence.

“Chastisement of any degree is unlawful; any act that harms a child’s right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation is unlawful and unconstitutional. The defence of moderate chastisement is accordingly unconstitutional,” said Dladla.

Supported

In an affidavit filed on behalf of Children’s Institute, Quaker Peace Centre and Sonke Gender Justice, children’s rights expert Shanaz Mathews also supported Keightley’s ruling.

Matthewssaid it did not take away parents’ rights of discipling children, but required them to change their way of doing so.

Mathews cited a recent study that found that 71% of young people in the Eastern Cape reported having been beaten with a belt, stick or other object.

“A significant portion of young people (27% of males, 33.4% females) reported being beaten every day or every week.

“Qualitative interviews with young people reveal that often such beatings are for minor transgressions and only severe beatings that result in injuries get reported to authorities, suggesting that most experiences of physical punishment remain hidden.”