On Thursday 29th November, the Constitutional Court will hear an appeal against the judgment by the Johannesburg High Court last year, effectively declaring all forms of physical correction of children by their parents – no matter how light or well-intended – illegal.
The appeal is brought by Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA), who believes that the High Court judgment will make criminals of well-meaning parents who love their children and only want what is best for them.
FOR SA attorney Daniela Ellerbeck explains that the effect of the judgment is that “if you give your child even the lightest slap on the wrist, you can be arrested and prosecuted for assault and if convicted, will have a life-long criminal record for abuse of your own children. Not just that, but for a trivial non-injurious slap, your children can be removed from the family home. One can only imagine the damage that this will do to families in South Africa.”
While FOR SA is utterly opposed to any form of violence against children, it argues that there is a clear distinction between violence or abuse, and mild (non-injurious) physical correction. For millions of South Africans who believe that the holy texts permit (if not command) physical correction of their children at times, where necessary, always in love, mild physical correction IS acting in the best interest of their children.
While many parents may choose to raise their children without any form of physical correction, FOR SA argues that more parenting tools are needed - not fewer. Relying on extensive research by the American College of Paediatricians (ACPeds), Ellerbeck comments that “every child is different, so not all disciplinary tactics will work as well for every child or for every situation with the same child. Parents need a full range of non-abusive disciplinary options to guide their children toward achieving their full potential.”
FOR SA is asking the Constitutional Court to find that the High Court was wrong in abolishing parents’ historic common law defence of “reasonable and moderate” chastisement to a charge of assault, and to set the judgment which it sees an unwarranted interference with parental and religious rights aside. “It is hard to imagine a more personal matter than how one chooses to teach one’s child to do the right thing. The right to educate one’s children according to one’s own convictions and understanding, is among the most precious rights that a free society grants its members”, comments Ellerbeck.