CNN World says that 31 nations have fully banned corporal punishment. Sweden was the first country to pass a no-hitting law in 1979 and was followed by countries such as Austria, Germany and Spain. According to an article called “Child discipline: whose right is it?” published on South African Christian news portal Gatewaynews.com, Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini says that, “If a husband beats his wife it’s a crime, but a parent hits a child who is helpless, it’s not illegal.” According to the article, children have a right to be protected from corporal punishment. According to an article posted on Unicef.org, “In spite of a strong legislative framework, corporal punishment remains widespread in South Africa, in both the schooling setting [where it is illegal] and in homes where it is hidden from public view and protection through civil and customary law.”

There are diverse views regarding punishing children. Some see it as a development tool while others see it as abuse.

Dr George W Holden, a psychologist and parenting expert at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, collected audio data analysis over a series of nights looking at normal home interactions of 35 families. In his research, he noted that some parents spanked their children once, but that one parent spanked their child 11 times in a row. Dr Holden observed that most children reacted to the spanks by crying and whimpering and stated that these lasted a few seconds with the longest reaction lasting 75 seconds.

Dr Holden says that hundreds of studies have been done on the effects of corporal punishment, and that the only single positive effect is that of immediate compliance. However, Dr Holden states that there are many negative effects, one of them being aggression. “Children who are spanked are more likely to be aggressive towards other children and adults as well. Besides aggression, children tend to be, over long term, more difficult, noncompliant and have behavior problems. In more severe cases, they can show mental health problems such as anxiety disorders or depression, so as they grow older they can show antisocial behavior, they are more at risk to be involved in intimate partner violence and they are at risk to become child abusers,” he says.

Students around campus were asked if they were punished as a child and if so, how they felt about being punished and if being punished affected them later on in life. Jason Jardine, a second-year business management student said, “I used to get hidings when I was a kid and I think it was the right way to do it. You behaved much better as you knew you were going to get smacked and it would hurt if you misbehaved. I would say that this affected me positively because I learned that if I did something wrong I knew I would be smacked and I associated those things with pain and I didn’t do them anymore.”

Kriszti Bottyan, a second-year BA English Studies student, also said that she was punished as a child. “Either it was a timeout or a spank. I think that it has positively affected me to a degree, because I believe it teaches you respect not only for your parents but also for others. It obviously wasn’t nice being punished at the time but I am grateful that my parents cared enough to lead me down the right path. Punishment may also have a negative effect however, depending on a person’s personality,” Bottyan said.

Raquel Pires, a second-year BA student said, “When I was younger I was given time-outs and then as I got older I used to get grounded or my phone got confiscated. When I was younger I was also rewarded for being well-mannered or getting good marks. I don’t think that being punished affected me negatively. My one teacher’s son used to steal from the shops so his dad used to put him in jail for the night.”

Heinrich Kamffer, a third-year mechanical engineering student said, “I got a hiding, as I believe it should be as a Christian family, thus I believe it influenced me in a positive way as it made me a better person. My parents just had to tell me to stop and I would listen.”

Lara Kraljevic, a second-year BA student, said, “My mom used to put pepper in my mouth when I swore. Well let me just say my brother swore and I got the pepper. I will never forgive my parents only because I got punished for my brothers actions and I think that I am psychologically scarred because I don’t like eating pepper. However, I think today’s kids are brats and need a good smack from time to time.”

Dr Marilyn Wedge, a family psychologist and author of Suffer the Children: The Case Against Labeling and Medicating an Effective Alternative, writes on PsychologyToday.com that just as nurturing shows a child love, so does discipline. “Calm and consistent discipline is as much an ingredient to happy children as discipline,” she said. She also added that boundaries that create rules and structure, no matter the age difference of a toddler or a teen, help a child feel safe.

There will always be those who believe that corporal punishment should be made illegal in South Africa and those who believe it is a fundamental development tool. It remains a versatile tool and depending on how it is enforced it may affect a person negatively or positively.

Photo: Hendro van der Merwe and Brad Donald

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