Don't klap your kids, new study warns

2014-11-16 15:00

Think twice before you smack your child. The University of Cape Town Children’s Institute has said in its Child Gauge 2014 report that corporal punishment can cause lasting damage to a child.

Child rights advocate Carol Bowen writes in the report that while children deserve greater protection than adults because of their physical and emotional immaturity, they are the last to be legally protected from violence in the home.

“You might argue that a small smack on the bum won’t hurt anyone,” she told City Press this week. “But where do you draw the line?”

Often, one small smack could end up in terrible abuse because parents lose control, she said.

According to the Kids Nation Survey 2014 on Parent24, the most popular form of discipline in South Africa is still reasoning with your child. But 30% of parents indicated that they discipline their kids with a “slap on the bum”, as opposed to the 41% who used reasoning.

A more substantive study on corporal punishment done 10 years ago found that 57% of South Africans had smacked their children at some point, and 59% of this group confirmed beating their child with a belt, stick or other object.

Children younger than five were also the most likely to get smacked.

The Children’s Institute has been driving efforts to make spanking a criminal offence.

Shanaaz Mathews, director of the institute, insisted that a smack did not change a child’s behaviour. Several studies have shown that it is likely to increase incidents of aggressive behaviour in children.

It could also be confusing and frightening for children to be hit by someone they love and respect, and on whom they are dependent, a study in the report found.

Children report fear, anger and sadness when they are spanked, and this interferes with the message of discipline.

“You also teach your children to use violence,” said Mathews.

Bowen pointed out that violence breeds violence. “What message are you sending if you say, ‘If you hit your brother again, I’m going to klap you’?”

She said the idea behind the ban was not to send parents to prison for every little smack. Rather, parents would be fined and directed to a positive-parenting programme.

Yet many parents in South Africa feel strongly about the right to lightly smack their kids when needed, and several groups have strongly opposed any effort to legislate smacking.

The department of social development supported the proposed ban, the Child Institute’s Lucy Jamieson said. But any new legislation needs to develop a policy basis, and Parliament has to consult widely.

“And public opinion is divided on this,” Jamieson said.

Mathews said it would require a lot of discussion and dialogue to change attitudes in South Africa. “It is all about changing our own mind-set about being a parent.”

Suffer the children

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