Is spanking ever okay?


Corporal punishment has always been highly controversial. 

Read more: Opposed to corporal punishment

What is corporal punishment?

Corporal punishment, or physical punishment (corpus means body*), is defined by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) as "any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light." 

In its report "Violence Against Children in the Home and Family", it states: "This may include “hitting (‘smacking’, ‘slapping’, ‘spanking’) children, with the hand or with an implement – whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc. But it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable or undignified positions or to take excessive exercise, burning, scalding or forced ingestion (for example, washing children’s mouths out with soap or forcing them to swallow hot spices). In the view of the Committee, corporal punishment is invariably degrading."

It may be worth adding, “In addition, there are other non-physical forms of punishment which are also cruel and degrading and thus incompatible with the CRC. These include, for example, punishment which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules the child.”

* By the way, corporal punishment is not to be confused with capital punishment, or the death penalty (capita means head). 

What did the church advocate?

The Joshua Generation Church published a parenting manual called “Raising Children – Transformation through Truth” and made it available as a free download on their website in 2013 (since removed).

The document reads: “Spanking has become a controversial issue in this day and age. The rod is not just used for disciplining your children, but is also used as a training tool." 

And, “Remember, a spanking must cause some pain otherwise it is useless and your child will remain unchanged. It is most effective to strike a light rod against bare skin. No bruising. No injury.”

So is a smack tantamount to abuse?

In the church manual, the distinction is made between smacking and abuse, but human rights organisations say the line is too thin and easy to cross.

The HSRC conducted a national study called the South African Social Attitudes Survey (or SASAS) in 2003, and in the report stated, “Smacking is less severe than beating with a strap, a belt, a stick or similar object.”

Only 45% of the parents surveyed stated that they’ve never smacked their children, while 27% reported using this form of physical punishment in the last month. The age groups most at risk for beatings were toddlers under three, 6-year-olds, 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds. 

“Beating a child under the age of three indicates extremely severe abuse, since very young children are far more easily hurt and hurt seriously than older children,” the report states.

The study concludes that 40 to 50% of children are likely to experience physical punishment in the home.

In a national survey undertaken in 2005 by the Human Sciences Research Council, it was found that the most common age of children who were smacked was three years of age, and the most common age of children who were beaten with some or other object is four years old.
The data showed 57% of parents with children under 18 used corporal punishment and 33% used severe corporal punishment in the form of beatings (in addition to smacking).

What does the law say?

In the home 

Currently, domestic corporal punishment is legal in South Africa, as in most of the world. But 48 out of the 196 countries in the world (mostly in Europe and South America) have banned it. 

Spokesperson of the SAHRC, Isaac Mangena, said on 24 January that an amendment to the South African Children’s Act, which will prohibit corporal punishment at home, may be made law early in 2016.

“We should remember that South Africa has ratified a number of international and regional human rights treaties which provide for the protection of all citizens, including children, from assault,” he said. “A growing body of wide-ranging, peer-reviewed research has established unequivocally that even the ‘loving little smacks’ result in a host of negative impacts on the social, cognitive, behavioural and intellectual development.”

At school

Here it is a completely different story. Corporal punishment in all educational institutions was outlawed in 1996 by the School’s Act and the National Education Policy Act. This includes psychological abuse.

Section 10 (1) of the South African Schools Act, (1996), states: "No person may administer corporal punishment at a school to a learner." Anyone who contravenes this act may be charged with assault. 

In 2000 a group of Christian parents brought a case against the Minister of Education, alleging that  “corporal correction” constituted a vital part of their religious beliefs and the prohibition of the use of corporal punishment in schools violated their constitutionally entrenched rights to practise their religion. The court weighed up the different interests but refused to exempt Christian schools from the prohibition.

Do you smack your children? Send us your comment to

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