In October 2013, Sonke Gender Justice joined the complaint by Hannah and Adriaan Mostert laid with the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC) against the Joshua Generation Church (JGC) about a parenting booklet published on their website and used in their “parenting classes” which devoted four of its 39 pages to describing the length and thickness of the rod that should be used to beat children as young as one year old. After an unsuccessful conciliation meeting between the complainants and JGC mediated by the HRC in November 2013 the next step was for the HRC to report back to the complainants about their decision and the corrective actions they would be proposing to JGC. The report is now 18 months late.
In a country with among the highest levels of interpersonal violence, including violence against children, the arguments mounted by the pro-spanking lobby are harmful to individual children and to society at large. Children are entitled to at least the same level of protection from random assault as are adults. Hitting people is wrong, and children are people too. South Africa is bound by its ratification of international and regional treaties, its acceptance of various Universal Periodic Review recommendations and its own Constitution to ensure that the rights of children to be protected from physical assault, no matter how “mild”, is realised. In addition, a large and growing body of research provides clear evidence that corporal punishment experienced in early childhood has a range of negative, developmental, emotional, behavioural, physical and cognitive consequences, including a higher likelihood of boys growing into abusive men and girls tending to seek relationships as adult women which re-victimise them.
In the 18 months that the report has been delayed:
- Over 1,000 children have died due to abuse, and around another 810 almost did.
- Pro-spanking groups like the JGC have been lobbying the African Christian Democratic Party and other faith-based bodies about what they have described as their “persecution” and “an assault on freedom of religion”.
- The JGC has continued to “teach” parents to “train” their children using physical punishment of even very young children.
“We’re still waiting for the JGC to apologise to the children of South Africa, whom they believe deserve to be beaten with rods”; says Patrick Godana of Sonke, who works on the MenCare campaign for gender-equal and non-violent parenting.
The fact that the report is late is especially unfortunate, since it exemplifies the debate on corporal punishment in the country. The delay of the report happens against the background of the parliamentary process of an amendment to the Children’s Act that will prohibit corporal punishment in all spaces. In 2014, the honourable Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini expressed her commitment to see through the amendment.
“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,” said DSD Minister Dlamini.
Sonke commends the Minister for her statement. Physical punishment of children is contrary to our own Constitution, and to several international treaties that South Africa has signed. We believe the Minister’s statement expresses the intention to improve relationships and reduce violence between adults, youth and children, and we support this vision.
The institutions that have been established to maintain the human rights framework demanded by our Constitution play a vital role in ensuring that all people in South Africa, including children, live a life free from violence.
Sonke, therefore, calls on the HRC to deliver the late report to the complainants by mid-April, and to support the process that will follow the release of the report, which may include an escalation to the Equality Court.
For further information, contact:
- Patrick Godana
MenCare Fatherhood Campaign Government and Media Liaison Officer
- Mbuyiselo Botha
Sonke Gender Justice Government and Media Liaison Officer
- Wessel van den Berg
Sonke Gender Justice Child Rights and Positive Parenting portfolio manager
- Carol Bower
Co-complainant and child rights expert
- Czerina Patel
Sonke Gender Justice Communications Manager
To read the Amendment Bill (2014), click here: www.gov.za/documents/childrens-amendment-bill-comments-invited-0
A record of the process of developing the Children’s Act and its amendments can be found here.