Legalised violence against children no solution

Date: January 1, 1970
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After extensive debate, the Parliamentary Committee on Social Development removed a clause from the Children’s Amendment Bill of October 2007 prohibiting any form of violence against children by parents, indicating its reintroduction for discussion and debate in parliament in a second amendment bill proposed for 2008.

Corporal punishment, effectively denies children’s Constitutional rights to dignity, to physical and psychological integrity, to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment and to equal protection under the law. 
In spite of the fact that children are socially, physiologically and psychologically more vulnerable than adults they receive less protection against this form of assault.  Behaviour which is intolerable when directed at adults is not only accepted, but in fact defended when directed at children.
Our criminal justice system prohibits corporal punishment in schools, in foster care settings, and in residential care facilities.  However parent’s “right” to hit their children for the purpose of control or discipline is defended in our common law which allows parents to use the defence of “moderate and reasonable chastisement,” if they are charged with assaulting their children. 
Internationally a growing number of countries have effected legal prohibition of parental corporal punishment. This includes countries like Sweden, New Zealand, Croatia and the Netherlands.
Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 16 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child both require protection of children from physical or mental violence or injury.  South Africa has ratified both instruments. 
In 2006, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child released a general comment on the issue calling for a full prohibition of all forms of corporal and humiliating punishment of children by member states. This imperative to ban all forms of violence against children is emphasised in the United Nations Secretary General’s recent Report on the Global Study on Violence Against Children, which calls on member States to implement this ban by 2009.
Children in South Africa are regularly subjected to corporal punishment, including spanking and slaps, and extending to hidings, whippings and beatings with hands, fists, belts, sticks, hosepipes and even electrical wires.  Although many of these instances are technically physical abuse, a child rarely seeks help from such abuse, nor will other adults involve themselves in preventing it, if the child’s parent does it. 
The following quotes are from South African Children’s Experiences of Corporal Punishment 2005:
“We were all sitting with my sisters, brothers and cousins.  He asked how am I talking to him and he hit me.  He hit me with a pipe that has wires inside.  He hit all over the body.” Girl KwaZulu-Natal
“She took out a belt in front of my brother and she started beating me up. ” Girl Limpopo
“She gave me five strikes on the buttocks, My heart was so sore and my bums were painful.  I couldn’t sit down the whole weekend.” Girl KwaZulu-Natal
These acts if committed against an adult would, without question, constitute assault.  An adult would be able to choose to run away, to defend themsleves, to fight back or to seek help. Children do not have these options. 
Arguments made by pro-corporal punishment lobby for parents “right’” to smack or spank their children fail to take the full spectrum of violence used in corporal punishment into account. 
Research indicates that while corporal punishment may result in immediate compliance by the child, it does not teach the child appropriate consequences for the behaviour, they are more likely to resist the parent and develop strategies to avoid being caught in the future.  Corporal punishment undermines the child’s self-confidence and self-esteem leaving them feeling helpless and humiliated.        
Most physical abuse of children is committed in the name of punishment or correction.  Studies with parents who had physically abused their children indicated that two thirds of the abusive incidents started in an attempt to “teach the child a lesson.” Child Welfare South Africa estimate that 90% of their physical abuse cases are because of corporal punishment.
Corporal punishment teaches children that it is acceptable to solve conflict with violence.  This is especially concerning considering the high rates of violent crime in South Africa.  Furthermore, studies show links between corporal punishment and antisocial, delinquent and criminal behaviour later in life.
Children reported the following regarding how they felt after corporal punishment:
“So when my mom hits me, it feels like she doesn’t love me” Girl, Limpopo
“I beat the children because I was angry.” Bo,y Western Cape
[After being given a hiding] “I felt like killing someone.” Boy, Western Cape
The Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said the following in support of the All Africa Special Report on Ending All Forms of Legalised Violence:  “Children can be disciplined without violence that instills fear and misery. If we really want a peaceful and compassionate world, we need to build communities of trust where all children are respected, where home and school are safe places to be and where discipline is taught by example.”
Of course, children must be disciplined, but parents must set the example, guide children, and teach them that they have a responsibility to behave a certain way and to respect other people.  It is important to ensure that children understand that there are consequences for their actions.  It is not necessary for these consequences to be violent or humiliating for them to be effective.
The Bill is not without its merits. The Children’s Amendment Bill provides for improving parenting skills and positive discipline programmes.  These will benefit all South African’s by encouraging better quality relationships between children and adults and less physical violence against children. 
The clause removed from the Bill, also provided that parents who use corporal punishment could be diverted away from the criminal justice system towards early intervention programmes as a measure to strengthen families, recognising that prosecuting parents may not always be in the best interests of the child.
Organisations working towards ending legalised violence against children will continue with efforts to prohibit corporal punishment through the second amendment bill in 2008. 
To address high levels of violence against children and violence in society we must raise children in homes and communities that instil values of self-discipline and respect for the rights and dignity of all, homes and communities in which no violence is tolerated. 
Samantha Waterhouse is the Advocacy Manager for Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (RAPCAN). This article is part of a series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.

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