“Although harsher forms of physical
punishment are more strongly associated with negative outcomes, even ‘mild’
forms of physical punishment such as spanking can lead to increases in child
aggression, delinquent and antisocial behaviour, and can have negative effects
on child mental health,” said Stefanie Rohrs from the University of Cape Town (UCT)
and co-author of the 13th South African Child Gauge.
At the launch of the annual review on
Tuesday in Johannesburg, Sonke Gender Justice’s Wessel van den Berg said that
“the normalisation of corporal punishment is a big problem in South Africa”.
Widespread violence in SA
While spanking is illegal in South Africa,
it still occurs regularly alongside other forms of violence in the lives of the
country’s children. This is according to the Child Gauge which was published by
UCT’s Children Institute in partnership with Wits University and others.
The review noted that corporal punishment
does not exist in a vacuum and is strongly associated with intimate partner
violence and gender-based violence.
The “magnitude” of violence against South
African children differs from study to study, but the authors noted that “all estimates show that violence is widespread”.
A February study found
that virtually every single child surveyed in Soweto – 99% – have been
exposed to “extreme forms of violence”. Published in the South
African Medical Journal, the research found that experiencing such high
levels of violence at a young age can lead to a range of problems including
poor mental health and problems at school.
But the issue does not
only affect individuals; children who are exposed to violence are more likely
to mature into violent adults.
Breaking the cycle
Experts warned that
gender inequality, income inequality and poverty are all drivers of violence
within families and need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The Child Gauge noted
the development of the Child Care and Protection Policy in December 2017, which
is scheduled to be presented to Cabinet for approval later this year.
This policy “recognises
that many at-risk children are trapped in an intergenerational cycle” of
violence and other risks, “and that government is currently not providing the
developmental services necessary to address the risks and break the cycle”
wrote the Child Gauge authors.
But the policy
recommends that criminal prosecution of parents who make use of corporal
punishment be a last resort. Care-givers should instead be given access to
“parenting programmes, which should promote positive discipline”.
Said Van den Berg: “The normalisation of non-violent parenting will go a long way in
reducing the amount of violence we see [in South Africa].” – Health-e News.
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