Against the Anti-Spanking Bill

Khaye Nkwanyana says proposed legislation will turn parents into criminals if they smack their children

Anti-Spanking Bill may create problems and pit families apart.

The Western Cape based NGO known as Children rights project has once again re-emerged with what it attempted in 2007, and got defeated by various sectors of South Africa, lobbying our government through Social Development Department that this country must ban spanking or corporal punishment to our children at home.

This organization was equally party to the banning of corporal punishment in schools. In effect, if government were to accede and pass this bill, it will mean that all of us as parents are going to be turned automatic criminals by raising our children in forms that include disciplining them by way of spanking. This should be a serious problem for any level-headed South African. I have attempted to listen to their cogent argument that underpins their lobbying including prevailing cases of child abuses, but these abuses they elevate are isolated incidences which in many ways, the domestic violence Act and the Children Act in its current form sufficiently addresses.

I hold the view that any legislation that must be enacted has to be informed by the wider legitimacy of citizenry so that its enforceability and authority will be natural. Sufficient societal support must palpably exist otherwise the alternative amounts to the act of truncating democracy - the will of the people.

South Africa has a society which is at least over 70% Christian. Many may not be devotees but they have been raised along Christianity lines whose scriptures encourages the use of corporal punishment as one amongst the corrective measures. The same is true of other religions in terms of not averse to this method of raising children. By Constitution we might be a secular state but such a recognition of societal orientation is important as popular government.

The Proverbs ( 13:24) says: " He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him".

I am afraid that if this law is passed it will represent the power of the resourceful lobbyist NGO that stands in range against the entire society. It will represent the will of the University of Western Cape against the entire South African society. And as active South Africans we cannot countenance such a tendency where those with money can impose their will and cultural choices to all of us.

I am also afraid that if this bill is passed it will be difficult to police and enforce it. To that extent, it will be rendered innocuous and undermine the authority of our government. The legitimacy and authority of government derives in its capacity as a supreme legal standard bearer, that it legislate laws that enjoys wider societal compliance and therefore are enforceable.

There is a danger here that this law may pit families apart. Imagine a Social worker or a teacher establish that I have spank my child and therefore advices a child to open a criminal case against me as a parent. Effectively, from where I am sitting, the relationship with my child will permanently end and for good. This will signal the fate of this child as I would have demarcated a solid line between us. And this will be real for many South Africans and therefore what kind of society we will be building?

I hold the view that broad laws are necessary to exist as they are to deal with abuses and other excesses but to dictate to me how I should raise my children as the government amounts to interference. Government should not impose a catechism and prescription for every parents how to raise their children but it must use the existing legislative framework to deal with excesses.

 I was raised through corporal punishment at home and at school. I am what I am today, thanks to my grandmother who was consistent on guiding and beating me up when I deviate; I thank teachers who used corporal punishment in me because all other forms short of this were not in the long run going to succeed in that teenage misbehaviour. I could have been a school dropout and at best a criminal today, maybe in jail had it not for those painful but progressive corrective interventions.

I am told that apart from Sweden where evidence has not come forth but in Finland, Poland, Kenya and Uruguay where this law exist, there are problems of subtle defiance and fault lines exists in enforceability. To us, it may be even more worse to operationalize this by law.

Social Development Department must either open an elongated process of public hearings in rural areas, townships halls and everywhere to solicit views and be honest about capturing the views of South Africans. We are a government of the people and therefore must not impose laws but attempt for a wider buy-in first or renege in the interest of society.

Khaye Nkwanyana is with the SACP in KwaZulu Natal and ANC Communication Committee member there. Writing in his personal capacity.

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