/ 23 October 2017

‘Spanking judgement sets a dangerous precedent’

Smacking your child could set in motion a cycle of abuse that spans generations
The South African Council for Educators (SACE) has admitted that it has “systemic gaps” that can allow teachers found guilty of serious misconduct and subsequently scrapped from its register to still practice their profession. (John McCann/M&G)

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) on Monday said a High Court ruling which ordered parents to no longer spank their children would set a dangerous precedent.

“The judgement sets a very dangerous precedent for other cases where children’s rights have to be weighed against parental and religious rights,” FOR SA’s executive director Michael Swain said in a statement.

Swain was responding to Thursday’s South Gauteng High Court ruling which prohibits parents from physically disciplining their children.

“Parents who disobey the law and continue to spank their children may be charged with assault and face criminal prosecution,” Swain said.

Parental discipline

He said FOR SA, which made submissions as a friend of the court, argued in favour of reasonable chastisement on the basis of Christian belief permitted by scripture.

“FOR SA argued further that parental discipline is an important part of parents’ duty to ensure their children are brought up as responsible human beings with a sense of right and wrong, and that it is therefore ultimately for the child’s good and in his or her best interest.

“FOR SA deplores the high rates of child abuse and domestic violence in South Africa, and strongly condemns any form of violence against children,” he said.

“There is, however, a fundamental and obvious difference between violence and abuse and reasonable and moderate chastisement in love.

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“It is unfortunate that the judgement does not recognise this distinction which is also recognised by the social sciences, and considers chastisement in all circumstances to be detrimental and harmful to children.”

The religious organisation was concerned that the judgement encroached on parental authority as well as the freedom of parents.

“Although the judgement states that ‘as far as possible, parents should not be criminalised’, in law it is possible that criminal sanctions may be imposed and children who are considered to be at risk of abuse or violence in the family home may be removed from their parents.”

Swain said the organisation was also concerned that the court had overreached in its judgement and said the ruling “effectively usurps the power of Parliament, [which] has primary responsibility for law reform”.

Swain said the appellant had three weeks, from the date of judgement, to apply for leave to appeal the judgement at the Supreme Court of Appeal. —News24

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