Durban - Religious leaders have slammed the call by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for a ban on parents spanking their children, and a pastor has suggested a national referendum on the issue.
But children’s rights groups support the call, saying spanking in the home is unconstitutional and violates children’s rights to be free from abuse and violence and that it perpetuates violence in society.
Sparking the controversy was a complaint by Adriaan and Hannah Mostert, with Sonke Gender Justice and Carol Bower, a child rights activist, to the SAHRC against the Western Cape Joshua Generation Church after the couple decided to stop spanking their children based on their research into corporal punishment.
The couple said in their complaint that the church’s promotion of corporal punishment on its website and in its parental training manuals violated the rights of children to be protected against “maltreatment, neglect, abuse and degradation” as enshrined in the constitution.
The church responded, saying it distinguished between “abuse” and “chastisement”, which it defined as “a parent striking the buttocks of a child to cause temporary pain without producing physical injury”.
But outlining its findings on the complaint, the SAHRC said advocacy of corporal punishment in the home was unacceptable, regardless of it being based on religion.
“The commission specifically finds that corporal punishment of children violates the rights of the child to protection from maltreatment, neglect, abuse and degradation,” the SAHRC said.
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The commission recommended the church agree in writing within 30 days to stop promoting corporal punishment, remove all references to it in its teaching and training materials and that pastors attend a course in alternative discipline.
The SAHRC called for amendments to the Children’s Act or for new legislation to ban corporal punishment in the home, to provide child-friendly procedures to enable children to access justice and to provide for remedies and penalties against offenders, within 12 months.
Church pastor, Philip van der Westhuizen, referred questions to their legal representative, advocate Nadene Badenhorst, who said on Wednesday the church would appeal against the matter with the commission.
She said the suggestion that the church promoted violence against children was “outrageous”.
“Depending on the outcome of the appeal, the church will consider (its) the legal options with a view to protecting family rights as well as the constitutional right to religious freedom,” Badenhorst said.
“The SAHRC’s report crosses the sacred line of family, and interferes where it has no business. It violates religious freedom across different faiths, to freely believe, teach, preach and live their lives, according to the sacred texts.
“It is not for the state to tell us what we may and may not believe,” Badenhorst said.
However, she said the church did not promote spanking.
“The church made it clear to the SAHRC it has no particular stance on spanking, and believes it is up to parents to decide what is best for their children,” she said.
Christian Revival Centre’s pastor, Dr Paul Lutchman, called for the government to hold a referendum to let parents decide, saying most would vote against a ban.
“I am totally against the government interfering in the home,” Lutchman said.
“The government has interfered in corporal punishment in schools and look at the condition of our schools now. If the government says ban corporal punishment in the home, will the government take responsibility for the mischief children get up to?
“The government is making a lot of laws that are not beneficial to our country. The Bible says clearly spare the rod and spoil the child. If you don’t apply some sort of discipline at home, our country is going to go down,” Lutchman said.
Lutchman said police should investigate child abuse, but it was not fair to tarnish all parents as child abusers.
Durban-based SA Muslim Network director, Dr Faisal Suliman, said the organisation was not in favour of banning corporal punishment in the home.
Suliman said there were existing laws against child abuse which were not always implemented. He said educational campaigns to make children aware of their rights and harsher penalties would adequately address the problem.
“Using the same logic, one might consider banning alcohol completely to stop cases of alcohol-related abuses, car accidents, or ban smoking altogether to reduce smoking-related health diseases or, even more ridiculous, to compel car manufactures not to make any cars that go beyond 120km/h to reduce incidences of traffic offences,” he said.
“We believe making criminals of the entire population for what would be a mild scolding or spanking will defeat the greater purpose of reducing child abuse and just lead to an unnecessary burden on police and social services when we can’t cope with the major cases we already have,” he said.
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Southern Africa Training Institute trainer and former pastor at St John’s Parish in Reservoir Hills, Chundran Chetty, said he was aware of an incident reported in the media where a child had died after being hit at home and it was important to be fair to children, parents and religious institutions.
However, he said spanking did not mean “hurting the child in bad way” as the Bible warned parents “not to exasperate their children”.
“If discipline doesn’t start in the home, where is it going to start? I think they should be allowed to spank within reason and according to age level,” he said.
South African Hindu Maha Sabha president, Ashwin Trikamjee, supported the call to ban spanking.
“I think the psychological consequences of corporal punishment far outweigh any other advantage people may argue they derive from it and there are so many alternatives to impose discipline,” he said.
“Corporal punishment in the home is another form of abuse. Our scriptures in no way promote corporal punishment or any form of violence,” Trikamjee said.
International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect and former Childline SA national co-ordinator, Joan van Niekerk, said Childline had campaigned for at least a decade to ban corporal punishment in the home.
“This is essential if we want to make South Africa a safer place.
“To live with less violence we have to raise children without violence and teach empathy.
“Banning corporal punishment will hopefully help parents think of alternatives,” Van Niekerk said.
She said she had seen injuries inflicted in the name of discipline during her work at Childline, which had convinced her a ban was necessary.
“We have banned domestic violence between adults in the privacy of the home, why shouldn’t children enjoy the same protection?
“It is illogical to fail to protect children,” she said.