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Spanking ruling: Welcome to the Nanny State

I disagree with the notion that spanking a child is physical violence or abuse. For the state to tell me how to conduct myself in my private space is simply an example of invasive patriarchy.

Therefore, the Constitutional Court granted For-SA leave to intervene and dismissed the appeal, holding that the common law defence of reasonable and moderate parental chastisement is inconsistent with the provisions of sections 10, 12(1(c), and 28(2) of the Constitution.”

And just like that, spanking of your children is unlawful. Is this judgment helpful? Does it provide us as parents with sufficient alternatives to exert discipline in our homes?

It is a common argument that spanking is tantamount to abuse and therefore unacceptable. But is that automatically the case? According to the dictionary, abuse is to treat with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly. Does spanking qualify as such?

Do judges know how to raise children better than their parents? Really?

The plaintiff in the case argued that “loving parental chastisement applied for the benefit of the child and in his or her best interest, gives dignity to the child”.

When observing social media on the issue, I must confess there are plenty of people arguing that even reasonable and moderate parental chastisement leads to promoting aggressive behaviour in society. The argument is that the house is an extension of society.

Others, on the other hand, argue that one must teach a child about relationships with authority. And surely this is a necessary life lesson to ensure good citizens.

Because of the violence in our society, there is an outpouring of support for this court ruling. Some go as far as saying the violence we observe daily is a direct result of spanking in the home.

For the state to tell me how to behave in my private space is the ultimate indication of the state as patriarchy. It assumes the right to control movement and behaviour. The law has become the enforcer of norms.

A prime example of this is the US, where incarcerations are the highest in the world. It is the most patriarchal society on Earth and yet it is one of the most violent countries. All their laws regulating norms are not working.

Courts claim authority over what happens inside the home, yet are not responsible for raising the child.

This is an intrusion into the privacy of the home. Once you raise the safety and/or protection argument, you can then decide on just about anything. We must have plastic glasses and cutlery only because glass can be used as a weapon to inflict pain and or to kill. The list could be endless.

To protect a dog, you can only feed it twice a day. It sounds ridiculous, but surely you would agree that the courts can now also regulate this?

You have to trust the individual to take care of their individual affairs – bar where the law is transgressed.

Let me be clear, true abuse is unacceptable anywhere, including in the home, and the law must take its course and abusers held accountable. But, to my mind, spanking does not qualify.

Parents who take it too far – and there are those, of course – must face the law. But that is a law enforcement matter.

The assertion of authority over the home is not OK in any society, including ours.

Can I raise my voice to my child, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, because some will argue that that, too, can be traumatic for a child?

When does a spank become hitting or a beating or abuse?

First, we must warn a child about something that is usually not acceptable and then make explicit the consequence before the act of discipline. A hand on the bottom and it’s done. Not with a tool, a belt, wooden spoon or anything else, which, for me, is unacceptable. And there cannot be a loss of control from the adult.

Can we assume that, in the absence of physical discipline, there will be an increase in emotional abuse?

The argument is that protecting women against abuse and violence should involve the state intervening, so therefore the same should apply to children. But how do you regulate child-rearing?

In many parts of the world, the state has intervened to ban oral sex or sex between men. Were these interventions also justified?

Safety and protection arguments are a slippery slope and this is a classic example thereof.

What we should be concerned with is not regulating what happens in the home but asking what are acceptable alternatives of reasonable and moderate parental chastisement? What should we do to instil a sense of responsibility for and respect towards girls and women? What can we as a society do to change our general approach to discipline towards children in the home? What can we do about single-parent households and the non-responsibility of many men with regard to their children?

These are the difficult questions we must ask and to which we must find answers. Nanny State interventions will not fix our society. 

OPINION: Oscar Van Heerden