The Constitutional Court will consider the constitutionality of the use of corporal punishment in the home on Thursday. File picture.
Durban - Parents are often unable to gauge the difference between gentle smacking and abuse, as a result of which many children are physically abused under the guise of discipline.

This was according to Childline KwaZulu-Natal’s Adeshni Naicker, speaking ahead of the Constitutional Court ruling considering the constitutionality of the use of corporal punishment in the home.

The hearing is the sequel to a judgment by the South Gauteng High Court, which struck down the defence of “reasonable chastisement” in October last year.

The high court found that a defence that allows parents to physically discipline their children violates children’s rights and that the protection of children from all forms of violence is critical in the context of alarmingly high levels of violence against children.

“Childline vehemently takes a stand against corporal punishment in the home environment,” said Naicker.

Previously the court prohibited corporal punishment in detention settings in 1995 and in schools in 2000, and today’s case presents the opportunity to prohibit its use in the home.

At present, the common law defence of “reasonable chastisement” allows parents to beat their children with the justification of corporal punishment being a form of discipline.

The Centre For Child Law is representing the Children’s Institute, Sonke Gender Justice and The Quaker Peace Centre, three of the organisations which are plaintiffs in the matter.

“It is important to note that the removal of the defence of reasonable chastisement will not increase prosecution of parents. Parents will be encouraged and empowered to make use of positive discipline methods,” said Zita Hansungule of the Centre For Child Law.

She said positive discipline concerned positive parenting and the building of a positive relationship between children and their caregivers.

“Positive discipline is an approach that emphasises co-operation and helping children understand,” she said.

Hansungule said criminalisation of parents for beating their children was - in most instances - not in the best interests of the children and would therefore not be the preferred option for dealing with parents who use corporal punishment.

“The Children’s Act provides for different types of early intervention measures that can be used to assist parents to develop alternative forms of discipline,” she said.

She added that, according to legal principle, the law did not concern itself with excusable or trivial conduct.

“Prosecution of parents will be reserved for cases where prevention and early intervention services have failed,” said Hansungule.

Daily News