23/10/2017 09:47 SAST | Updated 23/10/2017 10:27 SAST

South Africa Torn By Child-Spanking Ban

The new court ruling has caused waves among parents and religious people.

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New legislation that makes spanking your child illegal in South Africa caused major controversy this weekend, with many -- including powerful religious groups -- disagreeing with the historic ruling.

The South Gauteng High Court found on Thursday that the common-law defence of "reasonable chastisement" was no longer in line with the Constitution. This judgment closes a loophole that had been used in the past in defence of parents accused of assaulting their children as punishment.

Many celebrated the decision as a win for children's rights in South Africa, where rates of child violence are some of the highest in the world. The Children's Institute Out of Harm's Way issued a report in 2016, which estimates that up to 34% of the country's children are victims of sexual violence and physical abuse before they reach the age of 18.

Wessel van den Berg, child rights and positive parenting portfolio manager for nongovernmental organisation Sonke Gender Justice, told eNCA that the ruling was "crucial".

"Sonke Gender Justice welcomes the ruling as an important step towards children's rights and violence prevention in South Africa," Van den Berg said.

"A large body of research shows that there's a strong association between men's use of violence and their exposure to harsh physical punishment as children. This ruling promises to reduce multiple forms of violence. We look forward to working with government and the broader public to roll out education campaigns that ensure parents understand alternatives to corporal punishment and can use nonviolent, positive discipline approaches."

One study conducted over five decades, involving over 160,000 children, found that the more children are spanked, "the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased antisocial behaviour, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties."

But the court's decision was not welcomed by everyone, with parents and religious groups slamming the judgment. Enraged parents took to social media and expressed defiance of the ruling.

Some found the ruling too strict, with many arguing that parents should still be given the right to spank their children, but within the reasonable limits.

Some also argued that spanking a child was a traditionally "African" method of child-rearing.

Religious lobby groups such as the African Christian Democratic Party went one step further and said on Twitter that "criminalising spanking does not achieve [the] desired outcome and diverts resources from where most needed."

They also said that the decision should not have been the right of a court, but rather of Parliament:

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