It is no longer legally justifiable to give your child a hiding.
This was decided in the South Gauteng High Court last week.
It caused me to wonder whether my parents would have been able to raise me properly without the odd beating?
I doubt it.
There are some people I would never want to be. The one thing I really, really never wanted to be was my own parent.
You will notice that I refer to my younger self in the third person below. Due to the atrocities she committed, I have no choice but to publicly detach myself from her. Tongue-in-cheek, of course.
My parents had their work cut out for them. Young Helene (4) bullied her baby brother.
Her parents caught her trying to squash the infant’s fontanelle – the soft area on the top of a baby’s head – with her forefinger. “The part where his brain is not protected by his skull?” you might ask. Yep, that’s the one. She got a hiding and never did it again.
It would soon become clear that she was a potential little thief-in-the-making. During a trip to Musina, she spotted a packet of pretty fruit-shaped erasers. The girl skilfully slipped it into her denim Barbie handbag. Her mother would only realise this hours later. Another hiding was in order. The packet of erasers was returned.
A year later, she got into a fight with a boy and threw a stone at him. A proper backside beating followed. She never threw a stone at anyone again.
By the time she reached primary school, it was clear that Mom and Dad were in for a roller-coaster ride. A fistfight with a male classmate followed. She lost. No additional hidings were required on that day.
The little girl also showed signs of a would-be arsonist. While visiting a friend, she somehow got hold of a box of matches which she utilised to set alight her host’s pink confetti collection – one by one.
Somewhere in the 1990s the concept of human rights registered with young Helene. One day after school, she declared that she would no longer be receiving hidings, as it impacts upon her human rights. At the time, corporal punishment in the classroom had been declared illegal. Future hidings were met with great resistance.
A mid-1999 scenario comes to mind. “I’m not receiving this hiding!” she declared. When it did not work, she threatened her parents with Childline. This did not work either. When the perfectly reasonable beating was over, she grabbed two bags of frozen peas from the refrigerator. She placed them in the middle of the kitchen floor and sat on them for 30 minutes to express her dissatisfaction.
Back to the present tense.
On Thursday, the South Gauteng High Court ruled that the defence of “reasonable chastisement” would no longer be available to parents who gave their child a hiding.
What does this mean?
My parents, had they been charged with assault for beating me, would have been criminally liable. The fact that their beatings were reasonable and actually contributed to raising a disciplined, successful woman would have meant nothing in court.
In our law, assault is defined broadly to include any act or omission that causes another’s physical integrity to be negatively affected, be that directly or indirectly. A threat of impending assault also qualifies.
In other words: my parents could have been jailed for threatening to give me a hiding – even if they haven’t actually done so.
I’m trying to imagine them being jailed for teaching a potential thief and arsonist that actions have consequences. It seems a bit silly.
My mother and father gave me hidings when I needed them. It was never excruciatingly painful, and never left a mark. The only mark inflicted on me was a mental one, the line between right and wrong.
I recall them trying alternative forms of discipline. The naughty-corner thing did not really work. With an imagination as vivid as mine, no place was too boring to sit in for a while. Locking me in my room was a dud. I would simply play with my toys.
They grounded me, but I was a reader and did not really mind having to stay home over weekends. Of course we spoke about my wrongs. Looking back, I realise that the conversations that hit home were those that were preceded or followed by corporal punishment. I can only conclude two things. Firstly, hidings were the most effective way of disciplining me. I seem to have been the exception. Many of my colleagues have sweet, disciplined children who have never been beaten. When it comes to your average kid, I am inclined to believe that responsible adults without criminal records can be raised in a hidingless home.
So. What do I have to say for myself? Sorry, Mom and Dad. And thanks for trying. I think it worked.