Bring back the smack?
Should corporal punishment be legal in South Africa?
While modern parenting gurus like Supernanny promote reasoning with children and using incentives to encourage good behaviour, one Australian mother is advocating bringing back the smack.
Smacking should be a ‘first resort’, says Sue Edgerley in her new self-published book, 5 Keys Parenting: The No-Nonsense Guide to What Really Works! ‘Even a one-year-old understands the message that a smack sends,’ says Edgerley.

The notion is sending ripples around the parenting world. But is it right? And is it even legal? After all, corporal punishment has been outlawed in South African schools, so are parents are allowed to physically discipline their children at home?

The SA Children’s Act defines abuse as assaulting or afflicting deliberate injury on a child, so the red-hot question is whether smacking would fall under this description.

There is currently no legal precedent of a child suing parents over a smack, but what would happen if an angry tween or teen got it together to actually take their parents to court?
According to attorney and mother Carmel Mustard-Botha, parents would have a common law defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’. This would legally allow parents to physically discipline a child for misconduct, ‘provided that this is not done in a manner offensive to general good morals. Further, the chastisement must be within reason in respect of the offensive behaviour, and must not result in harm to the child.’
What’s reasonable?

But who decides whether a smack is ‘moderate and reasonable’? I daresay the smacker and the smackee would probably disagree, at least at the time of the incident. If the case made it to court, says Mustard-Botha, the judge would have to take various factors into account, including the reason for the punishment, the degree of force applied, the object used to smack, the motivation of the smacker, and the age, sex, build and mental condition of the child.

Hitting the mark

‘But you need to draw a line between legality and morality,’ concludes Mustard-Botha. ‘Just because there may be a legal loophole does not make an action right or okay – or even effective!’
There are plenty of other ways of disciplining a child, she notes, including time-outs, confiscating toys, or grounding if the child is old enough. In addition to ways of discouraging negative behaviour, parents can pro-actively encourage positive conduct through good role-modeling, star chart or reward systems, and praising positive behaviour.

Punishment VS Discipline

South African children’s rights organization Childline draws a distinction between punishing a child (for example, smacking) and disciplining them (for example, removal of privileges). While punishment is based on a belief that suffering will deter bad behaviour, discipline involves a child understanding consequences and taking responsibility for their actions.

While there are plenty of alternatives to smacking – and even laws to protect children from physical harm – there are still mothers like Edgerley who consider smacking to be ‘the most effective early training system available to parents’.

In a world where 25 countries have banned corporal punishment in the home, is South Africa still a barbaric backwater or hanging on to the last vestiges of parental authority?

Should smacking be illegal in South African homes?

An alternate view: parenting expert Anne Cawood.

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