Last week, disturbing media reports surfaced about the tragic death of Nthatisi Bembe (12), allegedly at the hands of her parents. This tragic incident is another sad reminder of the precarious position that children find themselves in.
This gruesome incident demonstrates the well-known fact that incidents of physical punishment often lead to either severe harm or death.
Sonke Gender Justice was one of the respondents in the landmark ruling by the Constitutional Court in 2019 that declared the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ unconstitutional.
This defence previously allowed parents who hit their children as a form of punishment to claim that they were doing so in the name of discipline. After the common law defence was declared unconstitutional, all of South Africa’s domestic violence and assault laws and policies now apply to any instance of a child being hit by anyone, including parents.
While the case of Nthatisi Bembe was clearly an example of severe assault, ostensibly it started as so called ‘discipline.’
Firstly, a child should not be punished for normal teenage behaviour, and secondly, the use of violence as discipline always does more harm than good.
In South Africa, in 2016/17, there were a total of 803 counts of the murder in which age data was available and identified the victims as children. Based on these figures, the national child murder rate in 2016/17 stood at 4.3 murders per 100,000 children, according to the Children’s Institute.
Child homicide often starts off as discipline and then quickly escalates to severe violence. The solution would be that parents use non-violent methods of parenting that can assist in guidance of children, while keeping them safe.
Sonke Gender Justice expresses its deep concern at this incident and calls on the legal system to follow due course expediently and to hold the perpetrators appropriately accountable for their actions.
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