Constitutional Court to decide on discipline of children

The Constitutional Court. (PHOTO: Madeline Cronje via M&G)

On Thursday 29 November, the Constitutional Court will hear an appeal against the judgment by the Johannesburg High Court last year, effectively declaring all forms of physical correction of children by their parents — no matter how light or well-intended — illegal.

The appeal is brought by Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA), who believes that the High Court judgment will make criminals of well-meaning parents who love their children and only want what is best for them.

FOR SA attorney Daniela Ellerbeck explains that the effect of the judgment is that “if you give your child even the lightest slap on the wrist, you can be arrested and prosecuted for assault and if convicted, will have a life-long criminal record for abuse of your own children. Not just that, but for a trivial non-injurious slap, your children can be removed from the family home. One can only imagine the damage that this will do to families in South Africa.”

While FOR SA is utterly opposed to any form of violence against children, it argues that there is a clear distinction between violence or abuse, and mild (non-injurious) physical correction.

For millions of South Africans who believe that the holy texts permit (if not command) physical correction of their children at times, where necessary, always in love, mild physical correction IS acting in the best interest of their children.

While many parents may choose to raise their children without any form of physical correction, FOR SA argues that more parenting tools are needed — not fewer.

Relying on extensive research by the American College of Paediatricians (ACPeds), Ellerbeck comments that “every child is different, so not all disciplinary tactics will work as well for every child or for every situation with the same child. Parents need a full range of non-abusive disciplinary options to guide their children toward achieving their full potential.”

FOR SA is asking the Constitutional Court to find that the High Court was wrong in abolishing parents’ historic common law defence of “reasonable and moderate” chastisement to a charge of assault, and to set the judgment which it sees as unwarranted interference with parental and religious rights aside.

“It is hard to imagine a more personal matter than how one chooses to teach one’s child to do the right thing. The right to educate one’s children according to one’s own convictions and understanding, is among the most precious rights that a free society grants its members”, comments Ellerbeck.

One Comment

  1. Gideon Aggenbag

    The ruling of the Johannesburg High Court as regards disciplining children, is a truly evil one. Christian parents are are hereby forced to choose between obeying God and disobeying the Court,or vice versa. God COMMANDS the believer: “Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your soul on making him die.” (Prov. 19:18). “Do not withhold correction from a boy, for if you beat him with the rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from hell.” (Prov.23:13, 14). “The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a boy sent off causes shame to his mother…  Correct your son, and he shall give you rest; yea, he shall give delight to your soul.” (Prov.29:15, 17). The evil of neglecting reasonable, loving discipline exercised by parents is also put forth in God’s Word: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him chastens him early.” (Prov.13:24). God also gives the reasons why a child should be corrected: “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” (Prov.22:15.) Similarly God states why even He, as our Father, corrects those that He loves: “‘My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked by Him; 
    for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and He scourges every son whom He receives.’ If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons, for what son is he whom the father does not chasten? But if you are without chastisement, of which all are partakers, then you are bastards and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh who corrected us, and we gave them reverence. Shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For truly they chastened us for a few days according to their own pleasure, but He undoubtedly for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. Now chastening for the present does not seem to be joyous, but grievous. Nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who are exercised by it.” (Hebr.12:5-11).

    Now I am not a lawyer, but if anything, this ruling ignores the Constitution which gives the right to citizens to exercise their religion. And our God does not include child abuse and uncalled-for violence towards a child, but He does call upon us to chastise our children with love and to their good. If we obey this ruling of Johannesburg High Court, we are definitely bound to raise a generation of criminals. So, “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Jos.24:15)