Parents can’t smack their child, according to the law. Moms and dads will no longer be able to invoke the “reasonable chastisement” of a child as a legal defence should they face legal troubles for smacking their child. In fact, any parent who hits a child could likely face criminal charges for common assault – regardless of religious or other beliefs.

The Constitutional Court unanimously upheld the High Court’s previous ruling that the common law defence of “reasonable chastisement”, which implies that corporal punishment is justified/necessary in certain circumstances, is unconstitutional. The court found that the argument is inconsistent with the right to dignity, the right to be free from all forms of violence and the principle of placing the best interest of the child first.

Corporal punishment has long been illegal as a form of discipline in schools and the justice system, but the court has now cracked down on physical punishment within the family. The court maintained that the law shouldn’t treat children like “second-class citizens” with less legal protection than adults.

This also comes after the Department of Social Development stated that it plans to change laws regarding corporal punishment in South Africa.

The Department maintains that The Children’s Act, through the Children’s Amendment’s Bill, should reflect how the disciplining of children will be considered by our country’s law.

Section 12A of the Act states that:

  • (1) Any person caring for a child, including a person who has parental responsibilities and rights in respect of a child, must not treat or punish the child in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way.
  • (2) Any punishment, within the home or other environment, in which physical force or action is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or harm to the child is unlawful.

Should a parent violate any of the above-mentioned, they must attend a prevention and early intervention programme. Should this fail, and a child’s safety continues to be threatened, a social worker will be assigned to the case. The law also requires the Department to take extra measure to raise awareness about why a parent can’t smack their children, child safety and the intervention programmes available.