Should smacking a child be criminalised?

I’m not overly fond of smacking a child but with the new law against spanking being drafted and a very real possibility, I find myself a bit nervous and worried that my discipline choices as a parent may become limited.

My two little girls are adorable, in my very unbiased opinion of course. Isobel(5) has always been quick to understand what is right and wrong in terms of behaviour and even now takes time to decide what her choices are in a situation and whether her decisions will have good or bad consequences. Yes, she actually does use the word ‘consequences’ and quite often lectures me about my “poor” decisions when I choose to raise my voice in a conversation or involuntarily laugh if I see someone trip in a comical manner. “It’s not nice to laugh if someone has an accident mum!”

However, I value the option to give a smack on the hand if my 2-year-old persists in touching the searing hot oven, despite being warned against it, because she wants to grab a cookie that’s still baking. In my opinion, that moment needs quick discipline that has a lasting effect on my child so that she understands the seriousness of the situation. After the initial smack, I would sit her down on my lap and explain why she must not touch the oven and what would happen if she does get burnt.

A smack on the bottom or spanking out of anger or in a rage is very different, and I would never want to have my children fear me or my hubby so whilst we may threaten them with a hiding, we have never followed through with this. The best discipline method we have is to give them time-outs and then explain and resolve the situation when everyone is calm. It’s a cycle which may sometimes take days for the child to understand that their behaviour is wrong, but with a bit of perseverance and a lot of patience, it does work in our household. However, I think that depending on the type of child you have, as well as the personality of the caregivers and the home environment, it’s very hard to dictate what discipline method works best…

Will our children become truants and layabouts if we are not allowed to smack them from time to time for bad behaviour? Is smacking/spanking abuse? Are South Africans just plain aggressive and would a law preventing smacks/spanking help us all to become more peaceful human beings? Can such a law be implemented properly? I’m not so sure…

This article was originally written for Jozikids by Sholain Govender- Bateman in 2013.

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Sholain Govender-Bateman

Sholain Govender-Bateman

Sholain Govender-Bateman – New Media journalism lecturer and editor who worked for newspapers & edited magazines. She is mum to two gorgeous girls, Isobel and Aishwari, wife to Barry Bateman. Visit her on

19 Responses

  1. Unfortunately the need for a law such as this comes about because of the huge problem we have with child abuse in South Africa. Yes, people who have commented here are educated and were brought up in homes where they were spanked, but not abused. Sadly, this is not the case in many, many households where spanking is used as an excuse for abuse. As to the law being monitored, maybe it will be impossible, but you are not likely to be arrested for spanking your child. Rather, it opens a door for people who abuse their children, under the guise of spanking, to be arrested and charged.

  2. we grew up with spanking and neither I or my siblings are aggressive people, government should not be prescriptive. you only need to look at countries where spanking is against the law and how ill-disciplined their children are, to know that this is not the route to go. let's rather educate parents about good discipline.

  3. I am surprised by how many of you hit your children, how can you ever use physical violence against a child?? Do you hit your partners, friends and family if they disobey you too? We use a positive parenting approach with our daughter so that she does the right thing because that is what she wants to do, not because of fear of consequences. It's typical Christian fear base mentality … Obey without question or face dire consequences. We need to raise our children to want to be good people, not to only obey out of fear, especially fear of physical violence. The question is: if there were no consequences would you still do the right thing? We definitively need laws to prevent any physical violence against children, just because you gave birth to the child or they live under your roof does not give you the right to physically harm them!

  4. Children need to be disciplined but not with a hit , a smack or a whacking, i believe in speaking to your child and making them understand, should u not have patience to follow this method how can u expect your child to have patience to understand right from wrong.
    Many parents take a smack and a hit to a different level with kids and dont seem to understand that their strenght is differrent from a childs, put yourself in their shoes the only thing we do should we hit them is still fear NOT discipline.

  5. My thoughts exactly, it's like well its not working anywhere else so….let's try it in South Africa! Great Idea. I think the problem is also deeper than the smacking vs no-smacking it is whether or not to discipline, and for me that is the biggest problem. We want to be such good friends with our children we don't want to be good parents and do what we need to do to raise balanced children not just buddies who walk all over us.

  6. The law is being proposed by a group called the Children’s Rights Project, a non-govermental organization, which is based at the University of the Western Cape.

  7. I agree, children need discipline, with love. How are they supposed to learn anything from time out. My kids hardly need disciplining, luckily for me but the occasional smack on the bottom at the right time goes a lot further than time spent on in "time-out"! We should be allow to do what we feel works for us. Of course children should be protected from beating but a smack at the right time has not harmed any of us. Everything in moderation.

  8. Precisely – priorities Mr President and his merry men! There are more pressing issues that need your attention. No wonder we are sinking like the Titanic….

  9. They r crazy, no government should ever feel they have a right to mandate how I choose to raise my kids.

  10. As Angie says, It shouldn't be the only option, but an option none the less. I have 2 girls, the older being the more reasonable and emotional one (she has been since very little) and the younger one, the one who will push boundries, question everything and who seems to suffer from a condition I call "selective hearing"…for her time out is a joke, seriously. The only thing that makes her stop and listen is an old fashioned hiding….NOT an abuse session. From my childhood memories, I can recall being given a choice, a hiding or some sort of emotional discipline….hands down the hiding won…1,2,3 and it was over. I feel that there are a lot of parents/people out there who can do far more damage to a child with the things they say…after what is said, cannot be undone and lingers for along time.

  11. I come from a family of three girls, growing up we received smacks when we were really naughty (this did not happen often, but did from time to time), we have all grown up with good manners, respecting our parents and knowing what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. We were in no way abused or emotionally scarred because of the occasional smack. In fact, I'm glad that my parents chose to discipline us in the way they did. The way I choose to discipline my child should be up to me as the parent, I understand that there are the few who cross the line but I do not want my child growing up to be an unruly brat, time outs do not work for my daughter, I hate smacking her and only do on the rare occasion when she is really out of control, I always explain why afterwards and we always have a good cuddle, she is in no way abused or unhappy!

  12. The UK are sitting with a generation of YOBS. The sad thing is also that those parents / people that abuse children will not stop doing so – as they do it in secret already. This law is only going to affect the parents in the world that use a smack for discipline and not anger and abuse. I totally disagree with this law. I believe that it has missed it's mark in other countries and can only breed even more spoilt, delinquents here, while those poor children who suffer physical abuse will continue to suffer.

  13. our government can't manage drunk drivers, reckless taxi drivers, drug lords, child rape and abuse, corruption and abuse of power and now want to worry about parents who use smacking as a last resort of punishment?

  14. I don't think it's right for the government to tell me not to spank my child. They are not there to see what the children are doing. I do forbid beating children out of anger. If my parents never spanked me for some of the things I did, I might not be where I am today. We need to shape our kids, some kids will listen, lucky parent, but there are those who needs to be shown every now and then with spanking. Now I do appreciate what my parents did. Now I understand how much I was loved. Sometimes we do need tough love.

  15. No smacking has been in place overseas for many years and has created a generation of young adults who are not good at following rules nor caring about other people. There is now a turnaround and smacks are no longer forbidden.I feel that a smack on your hand or bum is not a bad thing but a hiding is quite another story.

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