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Violence Against Children in the Home Should Not Be Tolerated

Wednesday 6 April 2016

Children in South Africa face high levels of violence in their homes, schools and communities.[1] Children face routine violence in the form of corporal punishment by the very people, such as their parents and teachers, who are entrusted to care for and protect them.

Save the Children South Africa is pleased with the finding as per the report released by the South Africa Human Rights Commission, in the matter between the Complainants, Andriaan Mostert, Hannah Mostert, Sonke Gender Justice and Carol Bower; and the Respondent, Joshua Generation Church.


In sum, a complaint filed on 11 March 2013 alleged the following: (1) The Respondent’s religious doctrine requires the use of corporal punishment by means of a rod; (2) The Respondent, by implication, asserts that corporal punishment does not have a negative impact on the child; and (3) The publication of the Respondent’s parenting manual on its website amounts to a purposeful promotion of corporal punishment as a means of discipline.

Following a long and intensive investigation, Commissioner Lindiwe Mokate recently released the Commission’s report. The findings, in summary are as follows:

  • Best interests of the child: promoting of the use of corporal punishment, including moderate chastisement as a means of instilling discipline in children, violates the child’s right to have his or her best interests considered;
  • Maltreatment, neglect, abuse, degradation: the Constitution, international commitments regarding the protection of children, and guidance provided by the courts, suggest that corporal punishment, even in the private sphere, has no place in our constitutional democracy;
  • The right to freedom and security of the person of the child: the defence of reasonable chastisement relies on a pre-constitutional legal culture and the child does not enjoy the protection of his or her bodily integrity within the home, the place in which he or she should feel most secure;
  • Violation of regional and international obligations: the state’s failure to align legislation with the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child, since ratification of these treaties, is a violation of its commitment under international law;
  • Violation of the right to dignity: the state’s failure to address law reform relating to corporal punishment in the domestic sphere amounts to failure to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights as well as international obligations.

The Commission recommended that the Respondent: (1) furnish a written undertaking to detest from advocating corporal punishment; (2) remove references to physical chastisement from its teaching; (3) trainers and pastors involved in its parenting course take a course in non-violent discipline.

In addition, the Commission recommended that (1) Cabinet direct the Department of Social Development (DSD) to initiate amendments to the Children’s Act or initiate other legislature to give effect to the statutory prohibition of corporal punishment in the home; (2) DSD develop policies to promote non-violent parenting and offer parenting courses and training; (3) DSD plan and budget for non-violent parenting courses; and (4) DSD and the Department of Justice and Correctional Services place emphasis on children’s rights to be free from violence in the home, during the 16 Days of Activism campaign.


Organisations advocating for the banning of corporal punishment of children, measure a country’s progress within four settings, namely the justice system; in alternate care settings (such as children’s homes); in schools; and in the home. Twenty years ago, South Africa started on the right track, with abolishing corporal punishment in schools. We have since prohibited corporal punishment as a form of punishment in the justice setting and in alternate care settings, such as drop-in centres and early childhood development programmes. However, parents/caregivers continue to use violence in the form of corporal punishment in the home, in the guise of reasonable chastisement.

Recent studies have focussed on violence, in the form of the little smack. One ground-breaking study by Gershoff revealed that corporal punishment had only one positive outcome, immediate compliance.[2] Several studies reveal long-lasting adverse consequences for children. One study found that spanking affected young children’s intelligence. The IQ level of children aged 2-4 years who were spanked had dropped four years later, while children who were not spanked had IQ levels 5 points higher in that same period.[3] Childhood corporal punishment has also been found to be linked to adult depression and suicidal tendencies,[4] substance abuse and adult mental health disorders,[5] as well as increased aggression, criminality and antisocial behaviour in adulthood, increased risk of physically abusing their spouse and children, and decreased moral internalisation and self-discipline.[6]

Save the Children South Africa advocates for the banning of corporal punishment in the home and the use of non-violent methods of discipline that promotes open communication between adult and child, builds a child’s self-confidence and self-discipline, and instils values of non-violence, and mutual respect. Violence in the form of corporal punishment is exacerbated in South Africa by adults who have an attitude of tolerance to this form of violence against children, and believe that it cannot be prevented.[7] Parenting programmes that provide effective positive discipline techniques are therefore vital for preventing violence against children,[8] as they have the capacity to break the intergenerational transmission of violence. A large body of internationalevidence has demonstrated that positive parenting interventions are effective. By enhancing parenting skills, providing effective, non-violent forms of discipline, and involving children; the risk and incidence of child maltreatment in the home, and risky and antisocial behaviour, and family stress are reduced.[9]

Corporal punishment should be viewed in the same manner as all violence against children are viewed. The cost of treatment of children that have experienced violence by far outweighs the cost of prevention, both in monetary terms as well as human suffering. In the USA, it was estimated that in 2010, the average lifetime cost of violence per child was $210,012. This figure was increased when such violence resulted in death, to $1 272,900 per child[10]. Given that violence against children in South Africa begins early in life, in the form of corporal punishment, and often persists through the child’s development, violence has severe economic implications for the country. The cumulative costs associated with violence against children are thus likely to be exorbitant and will certainly be an economic and a social burden. Development agencies therefore have an additional stake in preventing violence, in the form of corporal punishment, to ensure that their investments are not undermined by the economic and social costs of violence.                                   

[1] DWCPD & UNICEF. (2012). Violence against children in South Africa. Pretoria: DWCPD and UNICEF.

[2] Gershoff E. (2002). Corporal punishment by parents and associated child behaviour and experiences. Psychological Bulletin, 128(4) pp539-579.

[3] 25 Sep 2009. Children who are spanked have lower IQs, new research finds.

[4] Turner, H. & Muller, P. (2004). Long-term effects of child corporal punishment on depressive symptoms in young adults: potential moderators and mediators. Journal of Family Issues, 25, pp761-782

[5] Afifi T, Mota N, Dasiewicz P, MacMillan H, & Sareen J. (2012). Physical Punishment and Mental Disorders: Results From a Nationally Representative US Sample. Pediatrics 130:1–9

[6] Gershoff. (2002).

[7] Makoae, M, Roberts, H, & Ward, C. (2012). Child maltreatment prevention readiness assessment: South Africa. Pretoria: HSRC.

[8] Gould, C. & Ward, C.L. (2015). Positive parenting in South Africa: Why supporting families is key to development and violence prevention. Institute for Security Studies Policy Brief.

[9] Knerr, W., Gardner, F., & Cluver, L. (2013). Reducing harsh and abusive parenting and increasing positive parenting in low-and middle-income countries: A systematic review. Prevention Science, 14,352-363.

[10] Fang, X., Brown, D.S., Florence, C., & Mercy, J.A. (2010). The economic burden of child maltreatment in the United States and implications for prevention. Child Abuse & Neglect, 36, 156-165.