Sonke commends Minister for commitment to promoting positive discipline and prohibiting corporal punishment

On Youth Day, Sonke Gender Justice commends the Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini, for her commitment to promote positive discipline and prohibit corporal punishment in all settings. As the nation celebrates our youth on June 16th, Sonke Gender Justice (“Sonke”) commends Minister Bathabile Dlamini for working to ensure South African youth are safe.

This month, which is also Child Protection Month in South Africa, the Department of Social Development (DSD) expressed support for the prohibition of corporal punishment in the home:

“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 Bathabile 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.

Research carried out by the Medical Research Council on child deaths in 2009 found that nearly half of the 1 018 child homicides in that year could be attributed to non-accidental injuries within the context of a relationship of presumed responsibility and care by a parent or other caregiver (“child abuse”). This is one of the negative impacts of corporal punishment – the fact that it often escalates to more serious assault, and too often, in murder.

The DSD, with the leadership of Minister Dlamini, has however recognized that more effective methods of discipline should be promoted and normalized in South Africa:

“While the law we propose would be a positive development in caring for our children in that it will raise awareness about what abuse is, and how negative corporal punishment is and can be to a child’s development, we also need to help parents find more positive alternative forms of discipline,” said Minister Dlamini.

The DSD has previously shown commitment to the prohibition of corporal punishment. The 2012 Child Protection Week campaign was dedicated to positive discipline. Positive discipline content is also incorporated in the Department’s capacity building programmes. Positive discipline is an approach to parenting that improves the parent-child relationship and communication, and avoids physical and humiliating punishment.

In 2015 the Children’s Act is due to be amended, and the clause that prohibits corporal punishment is already included as an amendment. Sonke and the Working Group on Positive Discipline are calling on Minister Dlamini to sustain the laudable move to prohibit corporal punishment by championing the point in Cabinet, the National Council of Provinces and the relevant parliamentary portfolio committees, as soon as the committees have been confirmed.

Similarly to other countries (most recently Brazil), prohibition does not depend on criminal law, but rather on family law – on its own, it will not lead to the incarceration of parents since the removal of the parent from the child’s environment is generally not in the best interest of the child. It will rather encourage healthy and caring relationships between parents and children.

This Youth Day can remind us that youth have a right to grow up without violence, in a safe home environment. Commemorative days like this often include one-day campaigns or events. However, DSD has shown their departure from this by demonstrating a commitment to a long-term solution.

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