Cape Town - Spanking children could soon see parents being charged with assault, if the Social Development Department has its way.

The department is drafting a new law that would make it illegal for parents to spank their children at home.

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini said if it was illegal for a husband to hit his wife, then the law should also apply to children being hit by parents.

Dlamini’s spokeswoman, Lumka Oliphant, said the department had a duty to protect children. “We are obligated by the Children’s Act to protect children and this is one area in South Africa that children are not protected. Children are protected everywhere but not at home.”

Oliphant said the proposed law would go through all government channels, including public participation. “We are making amendments to the act and this is part of it.”

Child’s rights consultant Carol Bower said studies going back as far as 50 years have shown that smacking a child sometimes only works in the short term and that non-violent methods work as well.

“Children are physically smaller and emotionally more vulnerable than adults. Children deserve at least the same protection as adults.

“Beating children violates their rights to physical integrity and to freedom from fear, humiliation and degradation.”

Bower added that the proposed amendment would help give South Africans an opportunity to build a non-violent society.

“Let’s make sure that we – parents, families, teachers, communities, government and society at large – begin to create the kind of childhood that is the right of every child and that underpins our shared right to live in a peaceable, just society.”

Shaheda Omar, of the Teddy Bear Clinic, said the proposed law could be abused by children although it was meant to protect them.

“The main aim is to protect children but children could take advantage of it and threaten their parents.”

Omar said all hidings could not be looked at in the same light and that various things like the context should be considered.

Director and founder of the Family Policy Institute of SA, Errol Naidoo, said that the government getting involved in family matters could be dangerous.

“The family itself is a unit and the government does not have the right to interfere with parental issues. How will criminalising parents decrease child abuse?”

Naidoo said there were already laws against child abuse that weren’t being policed properly. - Cape Argus