Reaction to 'spanking judgment' highlights SA's missing moral compass

2017-10-25 11:10

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Michael Swain's recent News24 guest column and the results of the poll conducted on the same site following the 19 October ruling by the South Gauteng High Court that the common law defence of reasonable and moderate chastisement of underage children is unconstitutional and no longer applies in our law is a tragic indictment of our nation's missing moral compass.

In a country where a child is murdered every nine hours of every single day, how on earth does Mr Swain and the well-educated middle class folk perusing the pages of our leading daily news site reconcile their need to beat their children at will with the stark reality most of our children live in?

Mr Swain's ill-advised argument in "favour of reasonable chastisement on the basis that millions of Christians (and indeed persons of other faith groups) believe that the Scriptures permit (if not command) reasonable and appropriate correction of their children" is completely and utterly irrelevant and out of place in a modern constitutional democracy that champions human rights.

The psychologist Alice Miller took the view that humiliations, spankings, beatings, and slaps in the face are all forms of abuse, because "they injure the integrity and dignity of a child, even if the consequences are not visible right away."

As a father of two girls, I am appalled at the seemingly daily news reports of missing children who are more often than not found murdered – regularly by a close relative. I am always afraid for the safety and well-being of my girls, and go to great lengths to create an environment of care and safety at home so that they may experience the warmth and comfort of unconditional love and affection.

It is a delicate bubble of trust and integrity that I create in the belief that it will make them stronger, healthier and more emotionally stable in their later lives. By doing the right thing, by choosing the high road now, I am laying the foundation for them to become positive role models in their later lives, and equipping them with the confidence and emotional security to become future leaders in their communities.

Shattering this bubble by resorting to physical violence when they misbehave is a betrayal of the love between child and parent, and only serves to reinforce negative behaviour while diminishing the ideals of a warm and caring family environment.

Science backs this: In the Journal of Family Psychology, Dr Elizabeth Gershoff from the University of Texas in Austin brought together studies of the effects of spanking – defined as an open-handed slap to the buttocks or limbs – that included a total of 160 927 children.

Gershoff's research showed that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree. According to a scientific American article discussing the research, Gershoff and her colleagues found that "spanking was associated with 13 out of a total of 17 negative outcomes they assessed, including increased aggression and behavioural and mental health problems as well as reduced cognitive ability and self-esteem."

Our children need leadership, love and attention from the guardians who profess to have their best interests at heart. Resorting to physical abuse to make a point diminishes the opportunity for the child to learn, creates a disconnect with the parent or guardian administering the abuse, and perpetuates the cycle of violence that has made our country one of the most dangerous in the world.

Claiming you have the "right" to beat your child because your ancient text told you it's okay is a weak excuse for your own moral failings as a human being in the 21st century.

* Fourie writes as a concerned parent.

Read more on:    spanking  |  smacking  |  corporal punishment
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