The South African Human Rights Commission has instructed Cabinet to ask the Department of Social Development (DSD) to, as soon as possible, bring South African law into line with various international human rights treaties which it has ratified – and its own Constitution – by prohibiting corporal punishment in the home.
Findings critical to addressing the extraordinarily and unacceptably high levels of violence against children in our country have been made in an Investigative Report released today (Friday, 22 January 2016) by the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC). The Investigation was conducted as a result of a complaint lodged with the Commission in March 2013 by Adriaan and Hannah Mostert, Carol Bower and Sonke Gender Justice. The complainants objected to a parenting manual published by the Joshua Generation Church (JGC), which used four of its 39 pages to describe the length and thickness of the rod which parents should use in training up (sic) children as young as one-year-old.
JGC is a charismatic Christian church which also advocates for the subservient role of women and is against same-sex unions. Indeed, a further complaint against JGC has been laid with the Commission for Gender Equality. Their arguments are based on perceived Biblical injunctions and their right to religious freedom. The lead elder of the JGC has been active and vocal, nationally, regionally and internationally, in opposing sexual orientation and gender identity rights.
DSD has so far not acted on their commitment to prohibit corporal punishment in the home. Parents and caregivers still have the right to claim ‘reasonable chastisement’ as a defence against having assaulted their child. There are, however, a number of reasons why corporal punishment in all spaces should be prohibited:
- South Africa has ratified a number of international and regional human rights treaties which provide for the protection of all citizens, including children, from assault;
- In its responses to recommendations arising from the Universal Periodic Review, the government of South Africa agreed that corporal punishment of children violates fundamental human rights;
- A growing body of wide-ranging, peer-reviewed research has established unequivocally that even the ‘loving little smacks’ result in a host of negative impacts on social, cognitive, behavioural and intellectual development. Being exposed to violence as a child has been shown to have a significant impact on the likelihood that the person will use violence as an adult;
- All adults in South Africa are protected from assault, no matter how ‘minor’; children in fact require greater protection from physical violence due to their smaller stature and stage of development than do adults and they are ironically the last group to receive such protection.
In making its findings, the HRC considered a range of issues including:
- The rights of parents and religious communities to raise their children;
- The best interests of the child principle;
- The right to freedom and security of person;
- The right to equality and equal protection under the law (the South African Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of age); and
- The right to dignity.
Recommendations arising from the report address the fact that South African law is out of step with its international and regional commitments and its own Constitution. A few significant recommendations:
- JGC provides a written undertaking that it will within 30 days desist from advocating corporal punishment as a means of disciplining children and removes all references to physical punishment from its teaching materials;
- JGC members involved in presenting its parenting course will take a course in positive, non-violent discipline of children, arranged and facilitated by the HRC within 6 months from date of the report; and
- Cabinet directs DSD to initiate amendments to the Children’s Act to prohibit corporal punishment.
An amendment to the Children’s Act prohibiting corporal punishment in the home has been prepared and is due to begin its journey through the law-making process in early 2016. With these findings from the SAHRC providing further impetus to the campaign for the long-overdue prohibition of corporal punishment in the home, we urge DSD to move beyond words and provide a time-line on when we can expect to see all South Africa’s children protected from assault, just as all adults in the country are.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Carol Bower, Child Rights Consultant – firstname.lastname@example.org
Hannah Mostert, Parent, complainant – email@example.com
Adriaan Mostert, Parent, complainant – firstname.lastname@example.org
Wessel van den Berg, Sonke Gender Justice – email@example.com
Patrick Godana, Sonke Gender Justice – firstname.lastname@example.org
The SAHRC report can be found here.
Fact sheets that counter corporal punishment myths in South Africa can be found here.
The Global Initiative to End Corporal Punishment with a list of countries that have prohibited it can be found here.
A record of the process of developing the Children’s Act and its amendments can be found here:
“Children are impressionable and when those in positions of authority use violent means to encourage discipline, the children understand this as saying violence is permissible when trying to persuade others to act in a certain way. This is why we are going to forge ahead with banning corporal punishment even in the home environment,”
– DSD Minister Dlamini
“South Africa has dodged it’s responsibilities to protect children for too long. It’s now time to step up to the plate.”
– Carol Bower, child rights consultant
“It is our social responsibility as parents and members of society, to seek non-violent and alternate forms of discipline as a means of imparting a correction or guidance to our children. Resorting to violence when you are overwhelmed by a situation is a historically conditioned response to many South African parents. This response must be challenged by members of the public in favour of the child’s right to be free from harm. Imparting violence on defenceless children is not conducive to a healthy society as it leads to a vicious cycle of abuse, re-enacted from one generation to the next. We are very happy that the SAHRC affirmed that no segment of society, including religious organisations, is exempt from upholding our Constitutional principles of human dignity, respect and equality.”
– Hannah and Adriaan Mostert, parents, original complainants
“This report and its recommendation to ban corporal punishment will be a litmus test for how seriously government takes Chapter 9 institutions like the HRC.”
– Wessel van den Berg from Sonke
“Children are very central in the Kingdom (Reign) of God and, therefore, we would like to remind believers to really treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve. We also call upon our DSD Minister to keep up to her promise around preventing violence towards children, especially in our homes.”
– Patrick Godana from Sonke