Parental Violence or Reasonable Chastisement? (16 April 2003)


The Editor, The Cape Times

Dear Sir

Parental Violence or Reasonable Chastisement?

Corinne Sweet’s article (15 April 2003) “Finding your discipline level” cannot go unchallenged. It exhibited a clear bias against reasonable parental chastisement. The accompanying picture’s caption alleges, “Children who experience corporal punishment are more likely to become delinquent.” This is simply not true. Parental violence toward children certainly encourages delinquency, but to lump a mother who angrily beats her child in the same category as a mother who lovingly but firmly spanks a recalcitrant toddler to correct bad behaviour is simply unfair. The first parent demonstrated an inability to set boundaries for herself or for her child, while the second parent successfully sets boundaries and builds the child’s security.

Research has shown that any form of discipline when used inappropriately and in anger can distort a child’s perception of justice and harm his emotional development. Well-structured studies do not show predominantly detrimental outcomes associated with non-abusive physical punishment. Quality of parenting is the chief determinant of favourable or unfavourable outcomes. Remarkably, childhood aggressiveness has been more closely linked to maternal permissiveness and negative criticism than to even abusive physical discipline. There is no significant correlation between the frequency of appropriate corporal punishment and the anger reported by mothers. Mothers who reported being angry were not the same parents who spanked.[1]

Ms Sweet claims that Sweden is a more enlightened country because smacking is illegal – “there are the lowest rates of teenage suicide, drug use, bullying and delinquency”. However, this experiment was not the success it was claimed to be – research by Dr. Robert Larzerlere and Swedish statistics indicate that both child abuse and teenage violence have increased since appropriate physical punishment was banned.[2]

Children are currently effectively legally protected from unreasonable corporal punishment by their parents. The courts weigh the punishment given by the parent against the behaviour of the child to determine if the punishment was reasonable. South African courts do not find that abusive parents escape punishment because loving parents may discipline their children using corporal punishment. Despite this, the South African Law Commission has proposed in the new Child Care Act that all corporal punishment by parents be considered assault. If Parliament approves this Act, parents’ rights will be drastically limited. The resulting state intervention in family affairs promises to seriously undermine children’s security and well-being. Which is better – to be disciplined effectively by loving parents in childhood, or to end up in the state’s discipline system (the jails) because the parents’ hands were tied? Which is better – to allow parents to reasonably discipline their children or to throw conscientious parents in jail for transgressing the boundaries set by the self-absorbed state?

May God give His people the courage and wisdom to do what is right in the face of pressure and resist this new totalitarianism.

Jeanine McGill
National Co-ordinator
Africa Christian Action

[1] From the Doctors for Life submission to the SA Law Commission on the new Child Care Act

[2] From the Doctors for Life submission to the SA Law Commission on the new Child Care Act

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