South African Human Rights Commission rules against Church promotion of corporal punishment and calls for prohibition in the home

The South African Human Rights Commission has issued its ruling on a complaint brought against the Joshua Generation Church concerning the Church’s promotion of corporal punishment as a means of parental “discipline” of children. The Commission ruled against the Church and, in doing so, called on the Government to meet its human rights obligations by initiating law reform to prohibit corporal punishment in the home.

The complaint was brought in 2013 by two concerned parents, the NGO Sonke Gender Justice (, and child rights advocate Carol Bower. In reaching its decision, the Commission considered the rights of the child under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), the South African Constitution and the South African Children’s Act 2005, other national legislation and relevant case law.

The Commission found that:

  • corporal punishment, including “moderate chastisement”, can never be justified, even if based on religious teaching
  • promoting corporal punishment violates a child’s right to have his or her best interests considered
  • corporal punishment violates a child’s right to protection from maltreatment, neglect, abuse and degradation
  • the defence of “reasonable chastisement” relies on a “pre-constitutional legal culture”: it is incompatible with the current Constitution and this should be clarified through law reform
  • corporal punishment as advocated by the Church undermines the right to equality and protection under the law
  • South Africa’s failure to domesticate the ACRWC and CRC and to legislate the protection of children against abuse and degrading treatment is a violation of its commitments under international law
  • corporal punishment of a child by his or her parent/carers violates the child’s dignity and its legality violates the constitution and international law

The Commission finds that corporal punishment of a child by his or her parent or caregiver violates the right of the child to dignity and that the state’s failure to address legal reform relating to corporal punishment in the domestic sphere enables this violation and amounts to a failure to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights as well as international obligations” (para. 9.6)

The Commission recommended that:

  • the Church cease advocating corporal punishment, remove references to it from teaching materials and ensure the trainer and pastors involved in its parenting course themselves undertake training on non-violent discipline
  • the Government initiate law reform to prohibit corporal punishment in the home, develop and budget for policies and programmes to promote non-violent parenting, and ensure a greater emphasis in the 16 Days of Activism on children’s right to be free from violence in their homes.