During the week-long series of anti-corporal punishment activities that were organised in January 2006 and in light of Peter Newell's1 visit to South Africa, Save the Children Sweden, decided to bring organisations working on corporal punishment in the Southern African region together in order to develop strategies towards banning corporal punishment in all spheres of children's lives. Hosted by RAPCAN and sponsored by Save the Children Sweden, the workshop on 27 and 28 January 2006 was attended by representatives from Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia.
Situation in various countries
Most of the participants present indicated that, in spite of the fact that the legal status of corporal punishment in these countries differed, in all these countries the practice was relatively consistent in homes, schools and places of care for children. Research in the region indicates that 28% of children in Swaziland have been hit with an object at home and 59% have been hit with an object at school. In Zambia 43% of children have experienced humiliating punishment and in South Africa 57% of parents have used corporal punishment.2
Reports from participants indicated that in all the countries where corporal punishment had been banned in schools or where it was allowed but regulated, it was still commonly practiced by teachers and regulations were not being observed or enforced in schools. This can be attributed to a lack of information on the content of the legal reform, a lack of awareness-raising and support programmes to assist teachers in developing alternative methods of discipline, and continued support by teachers of the use of corporal punishment in schools. A further contributing factor to the ongoing use of corporal punishment in schools is a lack of appropriate sanction against defaulting teachers by the school management.
Participants at the workshop also raised the issue that there was widespread practice of humiliating and degrading (as opposed to physical) forms of punishment of children both in schools and within the family setting. It was therefore agreed that advocacy efforts also had to address the prohibition of humiliating punishment along with physical punishment.
The need for law reform
All countries present had ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (with the exception of Swaziland and Zambia) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Certain provisions in these instruments have been interpreted as calling for a total prohibition of all forms of corporal punishment. The fact that none of these countries have effected a total prohibition is inconsistent with the provisions of these instruments. In order to afford children equal protection under the law from cruel, humiliating and degrading punishment, corporal punishment must be banned in all spheres of children's lives. Law reform to this effect will provide a vehicle to educate the public on positive forms of discipline, allocate government funding for programmes that develop the practice of healthy discipline, and hold people accountable for the violation of children's rights.
Participants agreed that law reform must go hand-in-hand with a process of public education and skills development, recognising that law reform alone will not change peopleís behaviour. It was also agreed that the prosecution of parents was not always in the best interests of the child and that, in light of the need to strengthen families and provide support to them, prosecution should not be used as a first option against parents.
Religious, cultural obstacles to stopping
The strong support for the use of corporal punishment by religious groups is seen as a major obstacle to change in all the countries that were represented. The workshop thus attempted to encourage information-sharing on religious teachings that promote the rights of children as opposed to those that infringe their rights. It was agreed that it was critical that religious leaders be engaged as participants in advocacy strategies as well as being the targets of such strategies.
Likewise, resistance to change on the basis of cultural practice must be addressed by incorporating into the advocacy strategy positive principles in our cultures that respect the rights of children. Obtaining and maintaining the support of respected traditional leaders was also seen as critical to the advocacy process.
Each country developed separate action plans which included the development of practical strategies for law reform and social change. These action plans included:
Building consultative networks in some of the countries. Developing relationships with key policy makers.
Utilising law reform processes relating to the welfare of children in all the countries.
Strengthening interventions and support within the education sector in all the countries (irrespective of whether or not corporal punishment was banned in schools).
Seeking legal opinions and developing litigation strategies to challenge the use of corporal punishment in the home or in other sectors, where relevant.
Some countries identified the need to work in communities with parents to develop positive parenting and discipline practice.
A regional action plan was developed, which includes:
The establishment of a regional electronic network to maintain coordination, support and information regarding the respective activities in the region.
The development of a position statement from countries within the region.
Linking the issue of corporal punishment to the Day of the African Child on 16 June, the theme for the day being Protecting Children Against Violence. All of the countries present will issue statements and organise activities on this day.
Sharing training materials and curricula for the education sector on the issue.
Utilising SADC protocols and parliamentary committees in advocacy.
Highlighting the issue at various African and international conferences and meetings in the upcoming year and advocating for further support to ban corporal punishment.
Promoting the participation of children from the region in support of positive discipline and banning corporal punishment.
Responding as a region to the UN Secretary Generalís report on the Global Study on Violence against Children which is set to be released in October 2006.
This feature: Waterhouse, S. (2006) . Ending corporal punishment in all spheres. Article 19 Vol. 2 (1) May 2006