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Tuesday 21st of November 2017

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South Africa reforms legislation to ban corporal punishment of children in the home

Wednesday 25th of October 2017
Juvenile Justice in the world

South Gauteng High Court ruled on the 19th October that ‘reasonable chastisement’ in the home is not in line with the South African Constitution, meaning parents can no longer use this as a legal special defence if accused of violently disciplining their children.


Hitting children was already categorised as illegal assault in South Africa, but the reform closes a loophole that previously allowed abusive parents to avoid prosecution. This new legislation is vital in South Africa, where rates of violence against children are some of the highest in the world. A 2016 Optimus Study report recorded 34.8% of South African young people experiencing physical abuse, figures “considerably higher than the global average”.

This reform follows consistent advocacy for change from children’s rights organisations. In 2014, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) recommended “amending the Children’s Act to explicitly ban corporal punishment in all settings including the home”. In 2016, the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Rights of the Child also urged South Africa to “prohibit all forms of corporal punishment in the home, including ‘reasonable chastisement’” and to “implement a national strategy to prevent and eradicate all forms of corporal punishment”.

South Gauteng High Court emphasised that the main intention of the reform is not to punitively charge parents with a crime, but to guide them towards alternative methods of disciplining their children. This will act in line with the ACERWC’s 2014 recommendation to “promote positive disciplining, to support families through awareness raising, and to train those who are working for and with children such as teachers and care givers”.

South African organisations the Children’s Institute, the Quaker Peace Centre and Sonke Gender Justice have stated their support for this ruling. According to Wessel van den Berg of Sonke Gender Justice, "a large body of research shows that there’s a strong association between men’s use of violence and their exposure to harsh physical punishment as children. This ruling promises to reduce multiple forms of violence.”


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