South Africa has often been labelled as a country where violence is endemic, from the legacy of apartheid, through to the current crime statistics, violence has become normalised in our society. Can the new Constitutional Court ruling make a difference and begin to shift the way parents discipline, so that the next generation is less violent?
In many households the unspoken rule is “you spare the rod, you spoil the child”. Parents pride themselves on adopting a discipline strategy that involves spanking their children. Today this attitude has been adopted by some black youth, believing that this has moulded them into the adults they now are. While it is true that this form of discipline deterred us from behaving badly in the short term, the truth is that this negative reinforcement misinforms our psyche into adopting violence as a method of solving conflict.
In a landmark judgement handed down on Wednesday 18 September, the Constitutional Court has ruled that it is against the law for parents to spank their children. The unanimous judgment, handed down by Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, states that the common law defence of “reasonable and moderate chastisement” was unconstitutional and South African parents need to find alternate methods to discipline their children. The ruling comes in the same month that saw women take to the streets, urging the government to take action to prevent gender-based violence.
Does violence meted out by parents influence men and women later in life? Does it encourage men to abuse women, does it encourage women to stay in abusive relationships? In essence, are parents actually instilling violence as a problem-solving method and raising daughters who will interpret violence as love? There is a need to focus on the impact of childhood events in adulthood, the nature and purpose of disciplining, how it is that an abused child becomes an abuser adult, and the rife violence that children experience in their homes.
Children interpret whatever they see around them as an ideal reality. A child that grows up seeing their mother being abused is likely to think of it as the normal way of solving problems as adults. It is said that it is better to build a child than to repair an adult. I believe that those who have long experience of beatings being used to reprimand, more easily accept abuse from their partners when adults.
It is natural for every parent to discipline their child, but there is a line that we draw between nurturing a child and harming them. I believe when a parent inflicts physical pain on a child in an effort to discipline them the purpose is no longer achieved, instead a different end is achieved – the parent breeds an abuser or daughter who remains in an abusive relationship because they interpret such violence as a form of showing love.
Exposing a child to violence, whether directly or directly, contributes to how they view violence in the future and using love as a justification for violence further convinces a child that they either deserved to be abused or they are well within their rights to abuse.
A society is the sum of families and communities. If we continue to encourage and tolerate violence in our homes in one form or another we are creating a society that is self-defeating on every front. Even if the Constitutional Court ruling does not stop parents beating their children outright, it might make them think twice before raising their hand to their child. And perhaps those children will grow up in a society where violence in the home is not normalised.