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Children have a right to be protected from corporal punishment

UNICEF calls attention to international and national legislation protecting children from all forms of violence, abuse and maltreatment.

2 February 2012, Pretoria -- Following recent news reports in South African media on the banning of corporal punishment in homes, UNICEF calls attention to international and national legislation according to which children have the right to protection from all forms of violence, abuse and maltreatment.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), an international treaty to which South Africa is signatory, declares that "States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child” (Article 19).

While the CRC does not specify what discipline techniques parents should use, it strongly supports parents in providing guidance and direction to their children (Article 5).

In South Africa, section 7 of the Children’s Act, 2005, provides that the protection of the child from any physical or psychological harm must be considered when the best interest of the child standard is applied.

“Corporal punishment in any setting – home, school and the penal system – is a violation of that right and results in physical, emotional and psychological harm,” said Aida Girma, UNICEF Representative.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment as any punishment in which physical force is intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort. It includes hitting children with a hand or object, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting or pulling their hair, forcing them to stay in uncomfortable positions, locking or tying them up, burning and scalding.

Reality of corporal punishment in South Africa
In spite of a strong legislative framework, corporal punishment remains widespread in South Africa, in both the school setting – where it is illegal – and in homes where it is hidden from public view and protected through civil and customary law.

Data published in South Africa’s Children: A Review of Equity and Child Rights shows that: 

  • Nearly 1 in 5 children experience corporal punishment at school; 
  • 27% of high school learners feel unsafe at school; and 
  • 1 in 3 parents use severe corporal punishment in the form of beatings.

Ending the cycle of violence
In addition to physical, emotional and psychological harm, corporal punishment teaches children that physical violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution.

UNICEF urges the Government of South Africa to embark on legislative reform together with a civic education programme that will provide parents and caregivers with skills and knowledge to employ positive discipline in the raising of their children.

UNICEF believes that the prohibition of all forms of violence against children, including corporal punishment, is necessary to break the cycle of violence in communities and is a prerequisite for a society where human dignity are respected and protected.





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