'I turned out fine': Why is corporal punishment still happening in South Africa?

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Why is this still an issue in South Africa?
Why is this still an issue in South Africa?

In South Africa, corporal punishment is already prohibited by law, at home and in schools, but it is sadly still practised by some parents and teachers. 

Corporal punishment is the most common form of physical and emotional abuse against children worldwide, and leads to the injury, and even death, of thousands of children each year.

It is a "severe violation of a child's right to human dignity, physical integrity, healthy development and freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," adds Save the Children South Africa (SCSA) CEO Steve Miller. 

"It could also be harmful to development, affecting a range of health and social outcomes. Unbelievably, such violence is seldom considered abuse," he says. 

As part of building globa0l momentum to end all forms of violence against children, SCSA is working with the End Violence Global Partnership to encourage individuals, government and organisations to commit to ending corporal punishment against children. 

Also read: Moms take legal action after the teachers who beat their children receive 'shockingly lenient' fines  

Normalised abuse

Parent24 spoke to Divya Naidoo, Save the Children South Africa's Child Protection Programme Manager, to find out more about why this is still happening and what one can do about it. 

While parents, in the privacy of their own homes, may be tempted to use corporal punishment, what drives a teacher to revert to physical punishment of a student?  

"Corporal punishment happens all the time in homes and schools and doesn't stop because someone is watching," Naidoo says. 

He explains that the problem is that as a society, corporal punishment is so accepted and normalised that parents and educators often do not see this as wrong because they do not see it as violence. 

"The view, 'I was hit as a child and turned out fine' is a very real one," he says.

While corporal punishment has been banned in schools for a long time, there have only been pockets of training, which does not lead to widespread changes in societal beliefs, Naidoo says many educators may also be parents, so they carry these views from home to school and vis versa, he says.  

Also read: Should aunts and uncles discipline your child?  

Getting help 

If a child is being punished physically by a parent or a teacher, what can they do about it? 

The child, at a minimum, should inform a trusted adult such as a teacher or an adult relative who will be in a position to help, Naidoo stresses.

"In addition, the child can report the matter to a Social Worker by calling  SCSA or Childline. The intention to get someone who will be able to work with the family," he says.

Finally, the child can report the matter to the police. Even here, the intention is not about charging parents but about getting help, so families stop the violence, he explains.   

If an adult is aware that a child is being abused like this, what can they do? 

Naidoo says, "Immediately stop the person, if possible, and if you have a good relationship with the person, talk to them about the effects of violence on children and direct them to get help to learn non-violent child rearing practices. You can also report the matter to a Social Worker or police."  

Violence is unnecessary

It is important to note that there is so much information available on how to raise children in a non-violent way that resorting to violence is unnecessary. 

SCSA works extensively with caregivers and educators to help them understand the impact of violence on children and to replace violent child-rearing practices with positive parenting.  

Parents and teachers looking for assistance may attend parenting programmes run by NGOs, or join the SCSA Positive Parenting Facebook page as a starting point. 

For more on how to discipline children, browse here

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