Guest Column

To spank or not to spank... is no longer the question

2017-10-23 14:16

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Estrelita Moses

A ground-breaking ruling in the South Gauteng High Court on October 19 on spanking children has sparked major controversy.

"The common law defence of reasonable chastisement is unconstitutional and no longer applies in our law," Judge Raylene Keightley ruled. So in essence, you may no longer spank/smack/hit/pinch your children. Period.

Any form of corporal punishment has been a no-no in schools for the past 21 years. When I hear how some of my peers were treated at school in terms of being beaten by teachers and principals, it makes my skin crawl.

Keightley's ruling is based on a case involving a father who kicked and beat his 13-year-old son after finding that the child had surfed pornographic websites. The beating left him with several bruises.

That level of assault – and it is assault, let's not pussy foot around it – is not 'reasonable'.  It should be viewed as the common assault that it is, with the relevant consequences.

So it begs the question then: What is 'reasonable chastisement'? Is a flick on the wrist, or quick smack on the bum the same as assault? I am not so sure.

I'm not a fan of spanking, and being the youngest of three, I kind of missed that. My sisters bore the brunt of it. Spanking my own son was certainly not high on my agenda as a disciplining tool. I would never do that, I kept telling myself. But never is a long, long, long time in toddler and preschool years.

While my son has never had a full-on proper hiding, I cannot say I haven't been partial to the occasional smack. And it's never a proud moment either.

When he was toddling and would do dangerous things, he would get a small smack. Well, more like a little swat on the hand. I'd rather that than a pot of boiling water comes tumbling down on him or dangerous behaviour results in an unsolicited trip to the ER – or worse.

It's not easy conveying to very young children that certain actions could have devastating consequences. And sometimes a tap on the hand does get the message across. It is a long way from assault.

He is now 5, and we don't do smacks anymore (mostly). He is old enough to understand a tone of voice and that there is such a thing as punishment – and consequences for bad behaviour. 

He also knows when he is pushing his luck and has a fair idea of what constitutes dangerous activity. We now confiscate toys, devices and use a star reward system. And god forbid no watching of Netflix kids – no Sharko, no Transformers, no Rescue Bots… It is an effective bargaining chip.

I do, however, now find myself screaming like a banshee at the best of times. This I am hoping will subside at some point. Surely screaming and death stare glares are also bad?

But he is a master manipulator, so the minute my voice starts to rise in tempo he will disarm me with a hug and/or quivering lip: Can we make peace, please?

And then we start the cycle all over again – sans the smacks, just me, the screaming banshee.

Discipline is a tricky issue – and children respond in different ways. But whether a slap on the hand constitutes assault and abuse, I am not so sure.

- Estrelita Moses is mobile and managing editor of News24. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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