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Media Statement: Corporal punishment is a violation of rights and not a solution to poor discipline

Attention: Editors and Reporters

19 August 2022

On 17 August, the Times Online published an article that implied that the MEC of Education in Gauteng, Panyaza Lesufi, was not opposed to the use of corporal punishment in schools to enforce discipline. If these insinuations by the Times Live report are indeed accurate, the South African Human Rights Commission (Commission) would be concerned, in light of the right to bodily and psychological integrity and the right not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman and degrading manner and particularly given the lack of agency that learners have and the extremely violent society in which we live.

Corporal punishment is a violation of children’s rights to respect for physical integrity and human dignity, health, development, education and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The effects of corporal punishment are far-reaching and can cause mental and physical harm to children as well as short- and long-term aggression and antisocial behaviour in learners, even as they mature. Importantly, corporal punishment is not a solution to disciplinary problems in a school or any other setting. Conversely, corporal punishment increases behavioural problems in children in the long-term and has shown no positive behavioural outcomes.

The Constitutional Court of South Africa agreed with this assessment of corporal punishment on two occasions. In 2015, In S v Williams, the Court held that “a culture of authority which legitimates the use of violence is inconsistent with the values for which the Constitution stands” and essentially prohibited corporal punishment in schools. In 2019, Chief Justice Mogoeng handed down a unanimous judgment declaring the common law defence of moderate and reasonable chastisement constitutionally invalid. The Court held that parents are prevented from disciplining their children using violence, which includes any form of corporal punishment. Additionally, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, the South African Schools Act, the Children’s Act, and the recent Basic Education Laws Amendment bill all strongly prohibit corporal punishment.

The issues of a lack of discipline in a school environment are systemic and broad and cannot be solved with the use of corporal punishment – which is akin to using a band aid to heal a gaping wound. There are various non-violent solutions to discipline problems in schools, which require ongoing collaboration between the school, Student Governing Bodies, parents, social services, and the broader community. Schools should have codes of conduct in place and educators are required to keep records of misdemeanours of learners, with reporting lines in place and support for educators and learners who violate such codes.

It is important to note that societal issues cannot be solved with short-term, violent solutions. These societal issues include poverty, racial and class conflicts, peer pressure, gang activities and more. Interventions in communities to support parents, learners, and educators with the underlying issues of a lack of discipline are required, which should be provided primarily by the State. A failure by the State to provide services and a healthy environment for communities to exist, should not become the fault of the child. Rather, schools and communities should engage with the State to ensure better support for communities, which lead to holistic, sustainable solutions to such societal problems.

The Commission would urge government to use the resources at its disposal to equip schools to deal with issues of indiscipline in schools in a non-violent and sustainable manner.



Wisani Baloyi – Acting Communications Coordinator Tel: 081 016 8308 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Alucia Sekgathume - External Communications Tel: 082 689 2364 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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