"It never did me any harm" - Why SA must drop this defence of spanking

“It never did me any harm” – Why SA must drop this defence of spanking

A historic ruling to make spanking illegal has split South Africa into two fractious camps

"It never did me any harm" - Why SA must drop this defence of spanking

The South Gauteng High Court made a drastic change to the dark arts of parenting last week, when it outlawed spanking as a use of ‘reasonable chastisement’.

The decision shocked many citizens of South Africa. Parents weren’t just feeling shackled from running their own household, but there’s a sense of resentment here. This generation of kids are now officially the first lot who are legally protected from spanking.

It is fuel for the smart-arse fire of a smarmy brat. One who is less afraid of pushing the buttons that little bit further. They won’t have to face the same fears as their seniors, who will tell you frankly that spanking ‘never did them any harm’.

Why has the spanking ban been enforced?

The common-law defence of “reasonable chastisement” was no longer in line with the Constitution, according to the High Court judge. The ruling looks to clampdown on abusive parents using this defence as an excuse to beat their children, rather than just administer a firm spanking.

The judgment arises from an appeal by a father who had been found guilty of assault because he beat his 13-year-old son in a manner that exceeded the bounds of reasonable chastisement.

Read: South Africa bids to ban corporal punishment

South Africa’s inherent problem with violence has had a huge influence on this decision. In some households, there is nothing reasonable about reasonable chastisement. Some religious groups even offer advice on how to ‘beat children without leaving marks.’

It is these abhorrent actions that need to be wiped out from our society. The piss-takers who substitute genuine parenting for unmitigated abuse. Granted, a lot of people effected by this ban will be respectful of certain limits. But its those who cannot be trusted that have brought the country to this position.

Children’s rights protected

It’s worth mentioning that the offence of spanking isn’t necessarily being criminalised. It is just no longer legally binding as a ‘reasonable’ way to discipline a child. It no longer holds up in court as a defence that spanking a child is acceptable.

Human rights group and child protection advocates Sonke Gender Justice welcomed the ruling, and explained that it is there to help parents, rather than punish them.

The court emphasised that the intention is not to charge parents with a crime, but rather to guide and support parents in finding more positive and effective ways of disciplining children.

The judgment points out that South Africa is not the first African country to do away with corporal punishment in the home – half of the countries in Africa have publically committed to doing so (including South Africa), and that Kenya, South Sudan, Tunisia, Benin, Cabo Verde, the Republic of Congo and Togo have all actually abolished corporal punishment in all settings.

What never did you harm, may have greatly hurt someone else.

The spanking discussion is one that could last for hours: How far is too far? What else can parents do? And “it never did me any harm” are all talking points that will never have a definitive answer.

The last term is especially lucid in its meaning: “It never did me any harm” is usually the spanker’s defence of choice. Seemingly normal parents and older adults were subjected to spankings and ‘reasonable chastisement’ for the entirity of their childhood.

They have gone on to become politicians, doctors, lawyers, and scientists. They are indistinguishable from those who never received corporal punishment. However, it’s all well and good looking at the success stories. But what about those who are struggling?

The University of Texas compiled 50 years of data for their meta-research, and discovered those who were subjected to spankings experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties. They also suggests that those who were spanked become less compliant as they get older.

Who says spanking should be normalised?

The term ‘clip round the earhole’ was a popular one from my childhood. It was the go-to, blanket term for a slap round the head if we were caught acting up. Certainly, I wore a few on the back of my noggin, and feel it was a reasonably way to chastise a relatively spoilt child.

The problem lies in the definition though. One person’s earhole clip is another person’s savage beating. Just because spanking ‘never did you any harm’ doesn’t mean that’s the case for other people. Their is a blinkered view of tough love just being the type of discipline we are all familiar with. That’s not the case.

Some abuse victims take years to realise what’s happening to them isn’t normal. Perhaps, after all our years of clips and spankings, this too is also far from acceptable? Just because it happened to us, doesn’t mean it has to be passed on to our kids.

There will be occasions where a well-intentioned spank gets the desired results. But now is the time for South Africans to stop making a habit of it.